Category Archives: parenthood

wow

Today I watched an ultrasound of my son’s heart. (It was a follow-up standard thing as part of making a decision about surgery on his sternum to correct his combination pectus excavatum and pectus carinatum.)

The last time I was in a room with an ultrasound machine, I was pregnant with the boy who was now lying on the table, watching his tiny  heart beat inside him, inside me. Now that heart pumps blood for a 6-foot-tall almost-man, who is still and will always be my baby.

The doctor pointed out valves, chambers, and blood flow. It was all very cool — and also, for me, not exactly a spiritual moment, but … a “wow” moment. My boy. His actual heart. Right there on the screen. Valves rhythmically opening and closing, blood flowing in and being pumped out, a chunk of untiring muscle that keeps alive one of the people I love best in the world.

Wow.

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an abundance of unkindness

Last night at dinner, my kids were talking about school and some of their teachers. My son said, “Mr. Jock [not his real name] keeps doing something really annoying.”

And what might that be?

“When two guys are wrestling around in the hall or something, Mr. Jock will ask them if they’re going out. Or he’ll call them girls — like, ‘Girls, are you coming to class?'”

Mr. Jock apparently makes such comments fairly often. Homophobic words litter his everyday speech.

His — and a lot of other people’s.

Teenagers have taken to using the word “gay” as slang for something stupid or ridiculous. Don’t like a movie? “It was really gay!” Think a kid at school is doing something goofy? “He’s so gay!”

I can fix that behavior within the confines of my house. My daughter’s ex-boyfriend learned to eliminate the negative “gay” figure of speech pretty quickly. Now we’re working on the new boyfriend.

But I can’t fix the behavior of my son’s teachers, and the other students, and all the people he’ll encounter for the rest of his life, who will speak and behave in ways that are bigoted and hurtful. Many of them will do so unconsciously, reflecting the way they were raised and taught. Others will do so very much on purpose.

And we live in relatively enlightened times! I’m frightened enough for my son as he faces the rest of his teen years and then adulthood. What must it have been like for parents of GBLT youth 20 years ago, or 50? It gives me some slight inkling of what it must be like to parent a child who’s a member of racial minority, even today. How did mothers and fathers bear to let their children leave the house in the days before Civil Rights brought at least partial sanity to our society?

For our gay youth, there is still very little sanity in the United States. Hate speech of the kind that is no longer tolerated when it refers to skin color is commonplace when it refers to sexuality. GBLT people can’t talk openly about their relationships or hold hands with their partners on public streets without risking verbal or physical violence. Prop 8 and similar laws around the country remind them that regardless of the strength of their love, many people consider their relationships “wrong” and unworthy of cementing with a marital bond (unless, like some dear friends of ours plan to do over Christmas, they travel to one of the few enlightened places that allow gays and lesbians to wed).

I love my son more than I can possibly express. I want to be able to ensure that his every moment is filled with happiness, love, and sunshine. But I can’t. I’m helpless even to ensure him a hate-free environment at school — we decided that it’s better not to try to address Mr. Jock’s behavior, lest fallout come back on my son; and my daughter has warned her brother that although the high school he’ll attend next year is a relatively GBLT-friendly environment, he’ll face plenty of unthinking insensitivity there, too.

All parents want their children to experience the very best that life has to offer. In the United States, all parents want to tell their children that they live in the land of equality and freedom. But some of us have to tell our children that as much as we love them, and as great as our country is, life for them will not be equal and free; instead they’ll encounter venom and hatred and disgust, not because of who they are but because of who they love.

No mother should have to say that to her son. It isn’t fair to either of us. And it makes me very, very angry.

shameless parental bragging

My daughter got her ACT score today. She’s planning to go to Indiana University (she’s only applying to one school). Today’s ACT score, combined with her GPA and her class rank, automatically qualify her for an Indiana Excellence Scholarship and admission into the Hutton Honors College.

Doug and I are indescribably proud. (And who knew, when we painted our kitchen red 12 years ago, that having a cream and crimson color scheme would be so appropriate?)

Way to go, sweetheart; you rock!

the age of accountability

Tim has written an excellent, thought-provoking essay about the FLDS sect and their indoctrination of woman and children into the belief that it’s OK for a middle-aged man to “marry” and have sex with multiple underage “wives.” He points out that many religions offer their own indoctrinations of one sort or another, and he points out that in many Christian churches, very young children are encouraged to get up and proclaim their own personal relationship with Jesus. He ends his essay as follows:

Perhaps the members of the FLDS Church are afraid that if the girls were older, that they might choose to not marry 49 year-old men. Perhaps they might not choose to engage in that kind of lifestyle at all. Perhaps they would choose to think for themselves, instead of just falling mindlessly into behaviors that are so easily encouraged when a child is so young.

Perhaps Christians (like myself) are guilty of the same thing with spiritual issues.

I had no idea that children made “professions of faith” at age 5 or 7. But here’s the thing: kids that age also make “professions of faith” in Santa Claus. They’re raised in an environment where the adults around them tell tales of a big guy in a red suit who arrives by night with a sleigh full of toys; and sure enough, on Christmas morning, the toys are there. So of course they believe in Santa: the proof is under the tree, plus their parents told them this was The Truth. They’ll continue to believe until reason and common sense (or friends in the know) convince them otherwise.

Now I’ll use Christianity as an example, although I don’t mean to single it out. Take a small child who’s being raised in a Christian environment. The child’s parents tell them about the big guy in heaven and his son, and about all the wonders that befall those who Believe. It’s clear that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a Very Big Deal to the child’s family and friends. And sure enough, the child sees that when people get up in church on Sunday and talk about their relationship with Jesus, those folks get a lot of positive attention. The child knows that their parents expect them to announce their belief at some point. Maybe one of their friends has already made the trip to the altar and been subsequently showered with praise. So of course the child will do the same thing: all the evidence is that they’ll be rewarded for doing so, and their parents have told them that this is The Truth. They’ll continue to believe — how long? In some cases, forever. In other cases, until new people, new situations, or their own contemplation, convinces them to change their minds.

I go to a Unitarian Universalist church. We don’t have a specific creed or dogma; each member is free to determine their own spiritual path and individual belief structure. Our Sunday School classes teach the basics of all the major world religions, familiarizing our children with the history, major figures, and beliefs of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Humanism, and more. We stress to the kids that it will be up to them to determine what they believe.

But despite that broad education, the fact is that our kids also have a natural tendency to believe in the same things their parents do. My own children have grown up with a Humanist/Atheist mother and a Humanist father who has a vague sense of god as the life force that binds the world together. We’re very liberal Democrats. And surprise, surprise, our teenage kids have liberal beliefs about social issues, they’re Obama supporters, and my daughter is a professed Atheist.

My daughter is 16. I believe she’s mature enough to make a statement about her belief (or lack thereof). My son is 13; he’s still sorting out his thoughts, and I wouldn’t ask him to make a firm statement about where he stands on religion. I wouldn’t begin to ask a 5 or 7 year old for a real, permanent statement of their faith — just as they’ll say they believe in Santa, if you ask them about religion you’ll get a recitation of what they know their parents want to hear and whatever will get them the most positive attention.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Along similar lines, I expect this is why nationally, laws indicate that kids under 16 can’t legally consent to have sex; having raised a child to that age, I’ve definitely seen this age as a defining point in her growth and maturity. My almost-13 year old son is by no means anywhere close to being ready for the emotional or physical toll of a sexual relationship.

I consider it unconscionable for the FLDS sect to “marry” girls that age to men so much older; girls of 13 or 14 aren’t ready to give informed consent to sex with anyone, let alone a 40 or 50 year old man. I absolutely believe that those women and children go along with the program because domineering older men have embedded those thoughts in their heads from infancy on; and in their sequestered environment, they don’t know any other way. As Tim suggests, if the sect waited until the girls were mature enough to make their own choice, they would almost certainly resist the idea of a union with a vastly older partner they have no affection for.

If we all waited until our children were 16 before we mentioned our religious beliefs (or political stands, or any other strongly held opinions), then I think many people would be surprised and perhaps shocked at the outcome. If I presented the notion of Santa Claus to my daughter out of the blue today, she’d be very unlikely to believe. If a 16 year old who had never heard stories of any supernatural origin of the earth or been told of a supreme being were given an outline of Christianity’s fundamental tenets, including the 7-day creation, the virgin birth, the rising of the dead man, and so on, I think they’d be very unlikely to believe that, either.

But we all want our children to be like us, and to believe what we believe. I am a parent; thus I indoctrinate. The important difference between me (or my Christian friends) and people like those in the FLDS sect is that we’re trying to give our children positive, constructive beliefs that we think will help them lead good lives and be good people. The FLDS parents (and others in similar cults) are giving their children negative beliefs that encourage them to participate in harmful, destructive, even illegal behavior. As far as I’m concerned, their right to teach their children about their faith ends when child abuse begins.

junior prom

Last Saturday, my daughter and her boyfriend (both age 16) attended the junior prom. If you’re interested, you can see a variety of pictures here. She had been building up to it for weeks.

http://im1.shutterfly.com/procserv/47b8da06b3127ccea85f51a856a200000056100AauWrdi1bsmMgA month ago, we drove two hours to Indianapolis to shop for her dress and shoes, so no one else would have the same ones. Over the course of the preceding week she applied assorted exfoliants, lotions, and oils to herself to make her legs, back, arms, and face smooth and clear. On Thursday, she got a pedicure so her feet were pretty, with coral nail polish. Friday night, she practiced her makeup.

Saturday morning, we went to get her hair done: an hour-long process during which her long-time stylist crafted a bun from a zillion individual pincurls and braids, using 78 bobby pins and 6 rubber bands in the process. (The preparation process for guys is somewhat less intense: rent tux in style and color of date’s choosing, pick up tux, put tux on.)

The result was worth all the time and effort:

http://shim1.shutterfly.com/procgserv/47b8da06b3127cce98548a73765c00000027100AauWrdi1bsmMg

They had a wonderful, wonderful time: they ate dinner with a group of friends, danced the night away, had a late-night snack at Steak & Shake, and then came back to our house, where they and 3 other friends put on casual clothes, took showers, and crashed about 3:00 a.m. (girls upstairs, boys downstairs). Sunday morning they slept in and then ate a vast quantity of warm cinnamon rolls. The rest of the day was spent in lazy relaxation (for the kids and for the mom who stayed up way past her usual bedtime to be sure they got home OK).

This weekend my daughter was as happy as I’ve ever seen her — which made me very, very happy, too. It was exactly the way the prom should be!

conversation with a 7th grader

“I’m not hungry.”

My 7th-grade son has said that the last several nights at dinner time. When asked why, he just shrugs. Tonight it had happened enough times that I was worried, so we pushed the issue. Why aren’t you hungry? Don’t you feel well? When you went over to Grandma’s to watch TV, did you have a snack?

“Well, yeah.”

Aha.

What did you have?

“Umm, a pack of Oreos and two Pop Tarts. I took those over with me.”

A pack of Oreos, as in an entire sleeve of Oreos out of the package? How many is that?

“I don’t know, maybe 12.”

A pause.

“And I had two chocolate bars.”

Another pause.

“Oh, yeah, and two glasses of milk.”

Gosh, I wonder why he isn’t hungry.

—————

Later, as we were eating, he cheerfully began to recount the tales told by his Geography substitute, who used to be a Marine. How if you’re stationed in the Far East, and you go out and get really wasted, and you wake up the next morning feeling awful, you can drink something alcoholic that has some opium stirred into it, and sleep for about 6 hours, and you’ll wake up feeling fine.

And how opium can get made into heroin, and heroin addicts use a needle to shoot it into their arms like this. [Demonstration of shooting-up motion into a vein]

Ummm, yeah… Those don’t exactly sound like appropriate things for him to tell you. Did he say that he did those things?

“No. But he looks like he’s stuck in the 70s and was probably a hippie. You know, he had his hair like this. [Motion outlining the shape of a long pompadour] They were cool stories!”

(My husband to me, afterward: “Do you want to call, or should I?”)

“Oh, yeah, and Mr. W [his health teacher] was telling us how if you have a hole in your throat, and you take a shower, the water can get into it and you can drown!”

And so forth.

Dinner conversation with an adolescent is never dull.

milestone

https://i0.wp.com/www.indiana.edu/~rcapub/images/GrowthChart.jpgIt’s official: our almost-13-year-old son is now taller than his dad.

  • Son’s height: 5’10-1/2″
  • Dad’s height: 5’10”
  • Son’s total growth in the last year: 7″

He’s a testament to the power of peanut butter, jelly, and pop-tarts!