Fly Your Freak Flag

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When my son was 6 years old, I liked to call him my noncomformist. He danced to a different tune and wasn’t afraid to show it. I was proud of him for that. We all know how difficult it can be to just be yourself and not worry about what others think you should be.

Now that my boy is 9, I see that in most ways, he’s still that independent free thinker. And I’m still proud of him…yet now I’ve been trying to make him conform.

I know. Shitty, right?

 

Let me lay it out for you. See these boots?  My boy loves these things. He’s finally found footwear that doesn’t hurt him and is completely comfortable. So he wore them all winter and spring. Now that’s it’s near summer, he still wants to wear them. One day last week, he wore shorts and put his boots on. I told him, “No way!” He looked like a clam digger, an old man with his muck boots on. I could just picture him getting teased by kids on the playground and the damn school bus.  I was protecting him….or so I thought.

This week, my son once again wore shorts and as we were leaving, he put his boots on. When I started to tell him “No” he burst into tears. And I mean burst. This kid goes from zero to sobbing in 2 seconds. His face scrunched up and his mouth was making horrible sobbing noises and tears were leaking from his eyes.

I stopped what I was doing and sat down with my boy in front of me. I explained my reasoning, that I didn’t want people to make fun of him. He said he didn’t care if people teased him about his boots, but told me that no one had made fun of him. “Not for that, Mom!” We recently discovered that some older boys were picking on him on the bus (surrounding him, actually) because he’s taller than they are and they don’t like that. So he’s getting pushed around for something he has no control over. And I think that’s why I wanted him to dress differently, to have some kind of control over what the kids do tease him about. Don’t give them more fuel for their fire, you know?

But my little guy sees things differently. Right now, he doesn’t care that he’s not good at sports. He doesn’t care that he’s bigger than everyone else his age. He doesn’t care if he looks weird or odd or silly. And since he doesn’t care, why should I?

I just read a review of the book, The Awakened Family: A revolution in parenting by Shefali Tsabary, with one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard on this topic. “Only when we can separate our fantasies concerning who our children should be from who they actually are can we do justice to their original essence and craft our parenting to allow for this to flourish.”

In other words, let your son be who he wants to be, Holly. He will never be in any kind of fashion magazine. He will never be an award-winning athlete. Just let him be the boot-wearing, cat-loving, video game player and reader extraordinaire that he is. Let him be the amazing, sensitive, funny, sweet boy that you’re proud of.

Shut up about the boots and just love your boy and makes sure he knows it.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

 

 

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Seeing is believing

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”–Henry David Thoreau

We received a note from the school nurse last week, letting us know our boy was having trouble seeing in the classroom. Both my husband and I were waiting for this to happen. I was 6 years old when I got my first pair of glasses, whereas my husband was in high school. Nearly every adult family member has glasses or had eye surgery, yet apparently our boy was still hoping he was immune.

When I made the appointment to see his optometrist, I warned my son that he would probably have to start wearing glasses. I wanted him to prepare himself if that was indeed the outcome. The kid flat out refused to even think about it. He told me to “Stop saying that!” in a freaked out and “oh my god the world is ending” kind of tone. So I didn’t mention it again.

I picked him up today for his appointment and he was in a great mood. It’s always nice to be picked up early from school, even if it is for a doctor’s appointment. We got to the doctor’s office, waited for less than two minutes and then the various testing began. My boy was polite, funny, and just all around wonderful. I was with him when the doc had him read some of the eye chart, and since he could only read the 2nd line without help, I knew what was coming.

The doctor told my boy that yes, he needed glasses. His vision was not horrible by any means, but with glasses, everything would be that much clearer. He let my son know that he didn’t have to wear glasses when playing sports, but at some point he might find that it could improve his performance. We thanked the doctor, but as soon as he left the room, my boy’s face fell. He was absolutely devastated. He quickly became angry and I just hugged him to me and told him it was ok.

He disagreed. Vehemently.

We walked to a different part of the building to pick up some paperwork and I hugged my boy again. He was fuming but let me hug him. “Honey, this doesn’t change anything. You’re fine. You’re still you.” But between tight lips he spat, “This. Changes. Everything.”

I sighed, but didn’t argue. For just a second I put myself in his place and tried to remember what it was like to put on glasses for the first time. To know that this would be part of my life forever, and everyone would be able to see the change. It wasn’t something you could hide from. “You’re right, Bri. You’re right. This does change things, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing and it’s not a big deal. Honest.”

He didn’t talk to me again until we got into the car. He always sits just behind me and as I started the car, I looked in my review mirror. His head was down so I couldn’t see his face. As I started to turn around in my seat, I could hear my boy gasping for breath as he sobbed. I rubbed his leg and started to cry, too. I asked him if I could get out and give him a hug and he agreed. I got out, opened his car door, and crushed him to me as he cried and cried into my shoulder. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him that I loved him.

After we left the optometrist’s office, I stopped to get gas while my boy ran across the street to get a donut. (I don’t care what anyone says. Anytime we have a doctor’s appointment, we treat ourselves afterwards. Not always to food, but sometimes that’s the easiest and cheapest thing to do. It seemed appropriate today.) As I was pumping gas, I had an “A-ha” moment. Although getting glasses is a little scary and new, my son’s reaction still surprised me. He was really, really upset. And had been since the first mention of glasses last week. It’s not like he doesn’t know anyone who has glasses, but he knows very few kids that do. There are a few, though, including a girl in his class who he’s friends with. BUT, my “a-ha” moment was when I really put myself in my boy’s shoes. My kid–who has tics, who is over five feet tall at the age of eight, who wears shoes bigger than some adults–will now have one more thing to make him different, one more thing to make him stand out in a crowd, one more target on his back for the asshole on the bus to shoot at. THAT was why my kid was crying in the back seat of my car, and I don’t blame him.

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This was taken two years ago when he liked wearing fake glasses.

Being a kid is so damned hard. Do you remember? You want to grow up so fast so you can feel like you have control, feel like you have some power in your life. Of course, once you get there you realize that you really don’t have as much control or power as you thought you would, but we don’t want to hear about that part. I want my boy to feel good about being different, about being unique, and that it’s ok, damn it! I don’t want him to feel like the “special snowflake,” as in feeling entitled. That shit just pisses me off. But I want him to feel good about being who he is. Or what he is. Currently he’s a Star Wars-loving giant who blows on his hands when he’s anxious, is a video game-playing rock star, and will soon be wearing glasses.

I know in another year or two (hopefully sooner), my boy won’t think twice about putting on his glasses. It’ll be just another part of him. It really won’t be a big deal. Until then, I’m hoping he’ll find his way to acceptance without too much anxiety. I want to guide him on this journey by showing him how awesome I know he is and how being exceptional can be wonderful. But I don’t want to beat him over the head with it, you know? I need to be patient and just let him find his way. I know he’ll be ok. I just need to sit back and watch it happen.

And that’s the hardest thing to do.

 

 

Don’t Mess with Mama Bear

As the youngest of three children, being teased was a daily part of my life. Being a fat kid made me a target at school, on the playground and on the bus. Especially the bus. Remember Molly Ringwald’s line from Sixteen Candles? “I loathe the bus.”  Yup.  That was me and probably 90% of the kids on it. There were always a few guys (usually) in the back that would pick on a variety of kids and typically if my siblings were with me, I wouldn’t get picked on. No “hippo” or “fatso” shout-outs on those days. But any other time? I’d try to shrink as much as this big girl could shrink and hope they didn’t notice me.

And now it appears my son is being teased, bullied, picked on, whatever you want to call it. And, of course, it’s happening on the bus.

There are a few kids involved, although we initially thought it was just one. Let’s call him Mark and his friend is Tony. Apparently, since last year, Mark has been calling my son names–“baby” and “c.o.o.l.” being the ones I’m aware of. Cool is no longer a good thing, I guess. It’s an acronym, but the only words my son knew were “overweight” and “loser.”  So I’m guessing that fat loser is really what cool means now?  Un-fucking-believable.

I didn’t know about this happening until last week. My son mentioned that a boy was teasing him on the bus and sometimes teased other kids, too. Ok. I’m going to confess something that sounds unbelievably horrible, but here it is. Initially, I was just happy my son wasn’t being singled out. Not being the only target can make things easier, you know? Not every day will be hell, just some days. But yesterday he tells me that he doesn’t think Mark is teasing anyone else, or at least it doesn’t seem like it. When I asked him what he did when Mark called him a name, he said he told a teacher. Awesome! Good boy, that was the right thing to do. Yet once the teacher was gone, Mark’s friend, Tony, picked up where Mark left off.

These kids are only one year older than my son. At dinner last night, my boy was already wishing to be in 5th grade because those boys wouldn’t be in his school anymore. A 7-year-old should not be wishing the next 3 years of his life away!

Grrrrrr…….mamabear

At that moment, I wanted to hurt someone. Human mothers are very much like mother bears–we want to rip your throats out if you touch or hurt our babies. End of story.

But, since we are supposed to be civilized, then other solutions must be found. I told my boy that wishing to be older was not going to solve anything, so we needed to talk to his teacher. This morning, I wasn’t feeling well, so he went into school alone but went directly to his teacher to tell her what happened. Meanwhile, I went home and immediately emailed the same teacher. An hour later I had an email from her. She ended up personally talking to the student and made the principal aware of what was happening. This woman was “all over it” so fast and it made me love her even more than I already do. She made my son feel safe and cared for and reassured that everything would be ok.

When my boy got home, I was here and I got to ask him how his day went. He told me that Mark was now his friend, but Tony was calling him names now.

“Your friend? Mark is your friend now?”

“Yup!” my little innocent replied. “He gave me a pencil!”

Oh. Oh my sweet boy.

I couldn’t say anything right then. I just couldn’t burst his bubble. Not yet. Instead we worked on his homework. As he read aloud the instructions without stumbling once and sounding older than his 7 years, I started to cry. He looked up at me and just smiled. I gave him a hug and told him to not let *anyone* tell him he wasn’t smart or awesome or my kind of cool. He smiled again and said, “I know, Mom.” But does he?

After dinner, before we started chores, I sat my boy down and told him we needed to discuss Mark. “Honey, I know you think Mark is your friend now.”

“He is, Mom!”

“Just listen for a sec, ok? I need you to be…wary…to be cautious about Mark.” He had no idea what I meant, and what little kid would? Hopefully not many.

“Look, this boy has been calling you names for a year, it’s seems a bit odd that he’s now your friend because a teacher told him to be nicer.  If he *is* kind to you, then great! Maybe he’s realized he was doing a bad thing. Just…try not to get too close to this boy until he can prove he’s your friend.”

Thankfully, my son did not roll his eyes, but he did give me a very skeptical look.  When I asked him if Mark defended him when Tony called him names, my boy’s face fell just a bit. “No,” he whispered.

“Then, honey, you just need to be careful, ok? It’s ok to be friends with Mark if that’s what he truly is, but I wouldn’t call him a friend until he can tell Tony to stop calling you names.”

*big sigh*

I think this was the toughest conversation I’ve had with my son yet. More than the “how babies are made” talk, or “what really is sex, Mom?” discussion. Telling your child not to trust another child just sucks. Plain and simple.

I’m not sure what will happen next. We’ll keep talking about it, asking about the bus rides, seeing if things change. You know, I’m grateful for the school and its teachers and how they’ve been trying to handle the subject of bullying. They’re trying and I know that. But unfortunately, bullying will never go away. There will always be bullies at every age and every town. Hopefully there will be fewer and fewer as tolerance and empathy is taught in schools, but how about at home? You can’t force parents to be good examples of tolerant and empathetic individuals, although I wish we could.

You know, I told my son yesterday about the bumper sticker I used to see a lot in the mid-90’s, “Mean People Suck.”

“I like that,” my boy said. “Can we have that sign EVERYWHERE?!?”

Now *that* would be cool.