Talk to Your Sons

If you doubt the veracity or sincerity of the #MeToo movement, I beg you to read this blog post. If you read nothing else I write, please read this.

My 18-year old daughter has had multiple experiences that I can’t fathom. That I never experienced and struggle to comprehend. Experiences that make my skin crawl. That make me want to shout into the wind. That make me want to strangle the necks of the young men who foisted these experiences on her. That make me want to cry. That make me think, as parents of boys, we must collectively be failing.

************** warning **************
*potentially offensive language ahead *

Jane has been asked to boys’ houses for casual sex. Jane has been texted by boys asking her to suck their dicks. Jane has been texted by boys asking her to let them “suck her titties.”

This has come from multiple boys. None of whom she’s been in a romantic relationship with at the time of the request. In fact, only one of them had she ever even gone on a date with, and that one, it was a single date months in the past. One had only recently been dumped by a close friends of hers. And another was a clearly platonic friend she had known for almost a decade.

Jane is matter-of-fact about it. She tells them no and often tells them off. She lectures them on their behavior and attempts to explain the inappropriateness of it. But.

But.

She seems to take it all in stride.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

An eighteen year old girl knows it isn’t right but also isn’t particularly surprised.

I talked to another mother of a girl of a slightly younger age. That girl wears a sweatshirt several sizes too big for her every day to school, no matter the weather, because that’s the only thing she’s found that keeps boys from grabbing her.

What a terrible thing for our boys that they are expected to misbehave. What a terrible thing for our girls that they have to deal with the misbehavior. As if it’s normal.

Now before you shake your head and mutter under your breath that some people should do a better job raising their sons but it has nothing to do with you, consider this. One of these boys, I know for a fact, comes from a very good family. A good Christian family that believes in hard work, respect, morals, proper behavior. His parents would be appalled.

I don’t tell them because they would come down on him and he would lash out at Jane and Jane would be mad at me, feeling I had betrayed her confidence. And then she would shut me out. I don’t tell them because Jane doesn’t want me to.

She’s already learned the lesson that many women seem to learn. It’s just better to sweep it under the rug. To minimize the significance of what happened. To say it really wasn’t that big a deal. It’s just her word against his anyway and there’s always the chance that his parents and others won’t believe what she says. That they’ll think she’s just out to destroy his life for some unclear reason. So we don’t rock the boat. No wonder so many young women struggle with depression and anxiety.

Here’s another sad lesson. When I said that every time I see one of these boys or his parents, I’m thinking about it, that I can’t look at him the same way anymore, she responded, “I know mom. Me too. It just goes to show that you think boys are your friends, but really, they aren’t.”

If you think your son would never do this, that he’s not capable of being that crass, that you’ve surely raised him better than that, You. Are. Wrong.

I believe my 15-year old son would never do this. I believe he is not capable of being that crass. I believe I have raised him better than this.

But I also know that before this, I had never talked to him about stuff like this. I had never thought I needed to tell him that asking a girl he’s not in a serious relationship with for sexual favors is wrong. That texting a random girl “Hey, suck my dick” is out of line. I seriously never thought I needed to.

I have talked to him now. In depth. And if you have a son, you should too. Today. And again tomorrow. And next week. And as often as necessary. Talk to him about his behavior but also tell him to talk to his friends. Tell him to call it out for what it is when he sees it. Work to change this culture that objectifies and demeans our girls and reduces our boys to something less than they can be. Than they should be.

Addendum: I told Jane as she read this that I would not publish it without her permission. I thought she might not want me talking about it. She shrugged. “It’s not a unique story, mom.”

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Rules of the Road

When you are teaching your child to drive, it’s easy to cover the basics. Stop behind the line. Signal before changing lanes. Look over your left shoulder to check your blind spot. Accelerate to the highway speed before merging onto the highway. Please, oh please! Always do that. And God forbid, don’t slow down until after exiting the highway.

What’s harder are the unexpected situations.

Like encountering a driver traveling the wrong way on the road you are on. That happened recently while I was on my way to pick Daryl up so I made a mental note and used it as an object lesson later on why you have to always pay attention.

Like getting pulled over by the police. Who is ever ready for that? We thought it happened to us recently. I had directed him onto a road after the one we were on became one-way in the opposite direction. Shortly after we turned, sirens started up. We stopped at the stop sign and then the flashing lights came right up behind us.

“Just stay put,” I told him, expecting the officer to go around us. Our street was one-way and we were in the left lane. The road in front of us was one-way as well, traveling from right to left. I guess the officer expected us to go ahead and turn left into some nearby parking spots because he paused behind us. Just long enough for me to draw the conclusion that we were being pulled over.

Just as I began to tell my son where to move, the officer went around us. What a relief. And now my son knows that panicky feeling of being pulled over. Maybe his first real time (you know it’s going to happen), he won’t be quite as freaked out.

Then there’s the matter of stranded motorists. Do you stop to help or not? If you do, do you give them a ride or go get what they need for them? I don’t recall talking to Jane about that 3 years ago when she was learning to drive but she handled it beautifully when it happened recently.

She was traveling into town to pick up Daryl from football practice when she saw a woman standing next to her car trying to wave people down. Jane didn’t stop and she saw the woman’s hands drop down to her sides. She was obviously exasperated that no one was stopping to help her on a section of interstate with no signs of habitation, no businesses nearby.

Jane decided that if the woman was still there when she passed back by, she’d help. And, when she passed back that way, the woman was indeed still there, although now sitting in her car. It was getting dark. So Jane circled around and asked if she needed help.

The woman told her a story of traveling from one place not very close to here, where her mother lived, to another place not very close to here, where she lived. Her car had run out of gas and her cell phone had died. She showed Jane that she had some cash. She said she was a nurse at a hospital and offered to show her ID.

Jane told her that we had a gas can at our house. She’d call her dad and he’d bring some gas. So Jane did just that – called her dad. We paused the show we were watching so that he could go help. Jane didn’t wait for him on the side of the road with the woman. She went ahead and brought her brother home.

“Did I do the right thing?” she asked when she briefed me on the story. “I mean, if it was a man, I wouldn’t have stopped. But. Did I do the right thing?”

“Yes, dear. You did. Running out of gas and your cell phone happens to be dead is a suspicious story. You were right to be on guard. But it sounds like she really needed help so I’m glad you stopped.”

There was so much to unpack there. A young woman and a stranded motorist. What are the rules? Don’t stop if the motorist is a man. Unless you have a man with you. A man, not your teenage younger brother. Don’t approach the car. Or maybe don’t even get out of your car. Don’t let them into your car. Don’t get into their car. Don’t quite trust the story – no matter how vulnerable they seem. But don’t be callous -we are called to help people. But don’t let them get close enough to grab you. Call someone for help. Or call the police? But not 911 because it’s not an emergency.

The story was true, we think. The woman couldn’t stop praising Jane when my husband showed up with a can of gas. She was an older woman. Most of us wouldn’t be on the road without a charging cable for our phone, but an older person? Yeah, totally believable. And the road behind her? It’d been a while since she had been able to see a gas station from the road.

I’m glad my daughter stopped to help. I don’t fault her for not stopping the first time. She was likely too far past the woman by the time she processed what was going on and what she should do. I am disappointed that no one else stopped in the 20+ minutes it took Jane to circle back around.

It has all gotten me to thinking though. Jane heads off for college in less than two weeks. What other scenarios have we failed to prepare her for? Both on the road and in life. How well will she fare on her own? So this is why parents of adults don’t necessarily relax – especially parents of newly-minted adults. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind doesn’t apply to your children.

The Hailstorm That Wasn’t

It was to be the largest hailstorm in recent memory. Much worse and more widespread than the one a few weeks earlier that had destroyed so much property. Baseball sized, no grapefruit sized! As so often happens, though, it didn’t materialize. It nevertheless destroyed my car more thoroughly than if it had.

The day before, I overheard a coworker telling people they needed to come to work early so they could leave early and get home before the hail started. He can be a little bit excitable so I discounted his comments. The morning of the great storm-to-be, it was all over the TV’s at the gym. They ran videos of the hail damage from the earlier storm. I began to take note.

At home, we discussed the weather. According to my husband, the hail was likely coming around 6:00, not the 3:00 my coworker had been putting forward the day before. Still, I had a voice lesson at the church at 6:00; I wouldn’t be home until closer to 7:00. I was worried about my pretty little green Prius.

I knew it was only mine temporarily. In theory, Jane was to buy it from us once she got out of debt and saved up the money. But her debt meant it would likely be months before that happened, and I really liked driving that car. I kept it clean and uncluttered. I didn’t have to get a key out to unlock it or drive it. My phone connected to bluetooth, allowing me to answer the phone safely while driving. I smiled every time I saw it and I really didn’t want it covered in dents or the windshield smashed. After all, we had paid cash for it and chosen to carry only liability insurance.

So I began to analyze the situation. I had initially thought I’d park it under our carport and drive the truck. But then my husband stated his intentions to drive the truck to choir that evening. Since he’d leave home for the church before I got back from the church, whichever of us drove the truck, the other would be in a Prius at the church during hail prime time.

I cast my mind about for a vehicle that could accept hail damage more acceptably and landed on Jane’s van. It was old and beat up. It had weathered several minor accidents already, sporting a shattered mirror, missing antenna, a missing chunk of back bumper, and a few other dents and scratches. Hail damage would not diminish the appearance of the vehicle. Plus, its windows were more vertical than those of a Prius, making them less susceptible to shattering under falling grapefruits.

I proposed an exchange with Jane. I didn’t figure it’d be a problem since she loved driving my car. She was remarkably resistant, mostly because she didn’t understand why. So I explained that I wanted my car under the carport when the storm hit. She eventually agreed and then I told her, “Oh, yeah, and it’s almost out of gas so you’ll have to fill up first thing when you leave the house.” Which she did, to our amusement later.

At work that day, there were printouts all over the place about the pending bad weather. People left early. I got texts from the school district about whether they were or were not adapting various plans due to the weather. I learned from my husband that choir had been canceled – after it had been moved on top of my voice lesson, which was also canceled.

All of that meant that I was leaving work earlier than planned – around 5:00, tasked with picking up my husband’s prescription and our middle child from a school event. On my way to my daughter’s van, I got a text from her laughing about how she had wandered the parking lot for 10 minutes looking for her car. “I see it!” I responded, “I’ll bring it to you.”

I was in a good mood. Our evening had unexpectedly freed up. We’d all be home and tucked away safely in the house before 6:00. We could look through the photos from our family and Jane’s senior photo shoots and make our final selections. And we might even have time to get yet another Marvel movie watched – maybe Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy – in preparation for watching End Game that weekend. Life was good. I even imagined my cute little green Prius parked safely under the carport.

Then my phone rang. I answered it only to hear Jane’s voice moaning, “Mommy, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry. Oh, Mommy, I’m so sorry.” Eventually she stammered it out. She had gotten in a wreck in my car.

The details were unclear. I didn’t understand why my car wasn’t under the carport. I didn’t understand why she was where she was. I was caught between believing/hoping it wasn’t that bad to knowing it must be. I told her to call her dad. I, after all, was on a tight schedule to get the boy picked up in time.

A minute or two later, my husband called and suggested I go to the wreck since I was already in town. He’d take care of the errands I was on. So I headed up the access road where she said she was. I started scanning for the vehicle. Was it still in the road? Or had she been able to pull into a parking lot? Oh, please let the damage be minimal. Oh, shoot, we don’t have comprehensive and collision. Images of me approaching a car with visible damage every day at work flashed into my head. Oh, please let it not be her fault. If it’s not her fault, we can get it repaired. Oh, please let it not be her fault.

And then I saw it. It was in the middle lane, cars moving slowly around it on either side. Its back was pristine but I could see debris in front of it. Her fault, then. My heart sank. But where was the other car? Was she still in the car? I pulled into the nearest parking lot and called her. Confusion reigned. She was in “the red truck.” Which red truck? There were two. Whose red truck? Why was she there? Where’s the other car? Did they leave?

Eventually it all sorted out. It was raining. She had misjudged the line of cars in front of her and how slowly they were moving. The other car had driven into a nearby gas station after the wreck. The truck belonged to a volunteer firefighter who had unlocked it for her to sit in and then gone to the gas station to check on the people in the other vehicle. He talked to me briefly before donning his jacket with reflective tape to go direct traffic until the police arrived.

Jane was stunned and kept repeating how sorry she was. “Why was I even in your car?” she asked. “I should have been in my van.”

So here we are now. The car is a total loss. The money spent to purchase it essentially a very expensive 4 month lease. Our insurance will go up. We’ll need to pay the tow company that towed my pretty little green Prius away. Our plans for our upcoming next driver to have a vehicle will have to change. I’m back in the truck. Jane’s prospects for getting out of her van into a more fuel efficient vehicle are bleak. All because we thought it was going to hail.

The evening didn’t go as I had envisioned. We were all still safely home and I was very grateful for that – it could have been much worse. We still looked at the pictures although we were all more subdued than joyful. Instead of watching a movie, my husband and I sat and talked at length about what to do next. Then we talked with Jane about our decisions.

I thought I was handling it well. I wasn’t dwelling on what-ifs. I was just accepting it. It had happened, there was nothing I could do about it. My car was gone, but my daughter was ok. I was ok.

But I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up in a funk. Maybe my imagined acceptance was actually avoidance. I finally cried just a little bit as my husband held me. My pretty little green Prius. But my pretty little child is more important. Her mental and emotional state after, so much more important. The fact that she wasn’t hurt – more important. I’m still going to miss my car though.

Happy Friday!

I was sitting on my bed reading a book before bedtime when Jane approached, purse on arm and keys in hand.

“Amy left her earbuds in my car. She’s getting ready to go to the gym so I’m going to run them in to her.”

“Why doesn’t she come out here to get them?” I asked.

“It’s not a big deal, mom.”

“Yes it is. It doesn’t make sense. She forgot them in your car, she should come out here and get them.

“Really, mom,  I don’t mind. It’s really not a big deal.”

“You are spending your gas money! You are going to spend 20-30 minutes on the road. Just so Amy can have her earbuds. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Mom, it’s fine! Amy drives me around town all the time. I just leave my car at school. It’s fine. I don’t mind.”

“Ok, whatever,” I said, realizing that this wasn’t a hill I needed to die on even if it made no sense to me.

I heard her come back in the house some time later, thought I heard her messing around at the other end of the house for a bit, and then finally she went to her room. I got up some time later to tell Daryl something in the living room. As I headed down the hall, I encountered a chair that I had asked her to return to the dining room earlier in the evening. I cracked open her door and wryly thanked her for putting it away.

“I’ll take care of it, mom.”

“No, that’s ok. I’ve got it,” I said, closing the door and then picking up the chair as I went down the hall.

“Mom! I said I’ve got it!”

“It’s really not a big deal,” I called back, trying to remove the irritation that must have been in my voice the first time. She obviously thought I was mad at her, which I wasn’t.

“MOM!! Please! I said I’d take care of it!!”

Confused, I tried to soothe her. “Honey, I’m not mad at you. I’m going that way anyway. It’s really not a problem.”

MOM!!” She sounded like she was about to cry. “PLEASE don’t go to the dining room! I said I’d take care of the chair.”

“Ok,” I said, frustrated. “I’ve just set it down in the living room. Make sure you come take care of it.”

“Thank you. I will!” Relief. And fatigue.

After talking to Daryl, I passed back by her door and decided to open it again.

“Why can’t I go in the dining room?” I asked.

“You just can’t mom. Don’t worry about it.”

“What is it?”

“Just. Mom, it’s not a big deal. I just didn’t want you to go in there.” Her head was in her hands. She looked defeated.

“If it’s not a big deal, then why can’t I go in there?” Strangely, while I was getting a little frustrated, I wasn’t particularly suspicious nor angry.

“I just really didn’t want you to.”

We went a few more rounds of “why” followed by variations of “just because.”

“Is whatever I’m not supposed to see going to upset me?” I finally asked. Uncharacteristically, I was easily setting aside my curiosity and letting it go.

“No,” she said – dejected.

“Ok, then. I won’t go down there.”

“Thank you.”

“Good night sweetheart.”

“Good night mommy.”

I had forgotten the entire exchange by morning. As Hal and I prepared to head to school, I entered the dining room. And saw a vase with three red roses – one for each kid. And a note that said “Happy Friday!”

My husband wanted to treat me for Friday – a recently resurrected habit of his from our high school days – but was out of town. He had enlisted our eldest to help and it had nearly killed her.

“I’m a terrible liar,” she said. “I made up that story about Amy so I could go buy the flowers. And I didn’t want you to go in there because I had already set them up and Daddy had said it was really important that I didn’t let you see them before Friday.”

I’m not the kind of person that thinks God spends much time meddling in tiny, insignificant day-to-day matters. But looking back, my willingness to let it go – ME! Let it go! – seems a bit like a God thing.

Good-Bye

He was a very quiet young man. Shy, even. When I asked when we could meet him, she hesitated and then reluctantly admitted that he wasn’t comfortable meeting us. I chided her that if he wanted to be in a relationship with her, it meant being in a relationship with us too. Eventually, he’d have to get comfortable with us.

And he did. Over a period of three years, he became a member of our family. He was there on Christmas day, there on random evenings, there on trips to visit extended family. I slowly started to get to know him. I found him unfailingly polite – a kind and gentle soul. A calm counterpoint to Jane’s more volatile, strong-willed nature.

And then she called me while we were visiting family out of state for Thanksgiving and she was home alone because of work. She dropped a bombshell and told me it was over. She had broken up with him. She was crying. I was stunned. Why? And why now, when she was home alone with no one there to comfort her?

But there it was. I texted him and told him that I was sorry, that I knew he was hurting, and that we would always care for him. He responded in kind. His mother wished me a Happy Thanksgiving with a broken heart. I returned the sentiment. I felt hollow and anxious and…helpless. As the days went on, I realized what my biggest problem was. Why I kept crying when I thought about it.

There was a parenting truth there that I hadn’t seen coming. Hadn’t thought about and did not like at all.

My children can bring anyone they want into my life and I have no control over how long they stay.

I can love the person, consider them family, be comfortable with them in my house whether I’m home or not, and then – just like that – they can be gone. I have no control; I have no say. It can happen without warning, and it truly doesn’t matter how I feel about it. I just have to accept and adjust.

I don’t like that. I don’t like this person not being around anymore. I don’t like wondering about the next person. About whether I will like them as much, whether they won’t last either, whether I will be sad or relieved if they don’t.

I am proud of my daughter – proud of the strong young woman she is becoming. Proud of her ability to make hard decisions rather than just going with what is comfortable, what everyone is expecting. Maybe this was the right decision, maybe it wasn’t. But it was her decision. Not mine.

I just get to live with the results. And that really sucks.

I’m on my way… maybe…

My phone rang as I walked the long walk to my car after work.

“Mom? Are you coming to pick me up?”

“Nah. I was going to but I changed my mind…”

<silence>

“…I’ve decided to go to Florida instead.”

“What? How are you going to go to Florida in your truck?”

“How am I going to go to Florida?”

“Yes! You can’t go to Florida in your truck.”

“Do you really not know how people travel from one place to another? It’s simple. I get in my truck and I drive. Then I stop for gas. And then I drive. And then I stop for gas. And I stop to pee. And then I drive. And I keep doing that until I get to Florida.”

“You are not going to Florida.”

“Why not? How do you know I’m not going to Florida?”

“Mom!!” I could hear his friends in the background. “I want to go home!”

“Oh, well that’s a problem if I’m on my way to Florida.”

“Come pick me up!”

“If I pick you up, what, you want me to come home with you then?”

“Yes! You can watch me play Black Ops.”

“That doesn’t sound like fun. Florida sounds like fun.”

“You can eat crackers.”

“What?”

“Crackers.”

“What about crackers?”

“You can eat them while you watch me play Black Ops. Or whatever it is you eat. Black Ops is awesome.”

“I don’t like watching you play Black Ops – that’s your dad. Mickey Mouse is in Florida. That sounds more fun to me. I mean, come on! Mickey!” At this point, I climbed into my truck and began to drive to the high school.

“I’m trying to celebrate. Come get me.”

“Celebrate? Celebrate what?”

{something garbled that sounded like “Football is over! Forever!”}

“Football isn’t over. You have a game on Thursday.”

{more garble that sounded like “This was the last practice! Ever!”}

“Last practice ever? Wait, I thought you loved football. You don’t plan on playing next year? Really?”

“No, mom! Last freshman football practice. It’s done.”

“It’s not done. You still have a game on Thursday.”

“Mom, come on. You need to pick me up.”

“Ok, fine. I’m on my way.”

“Good.”

“It’s going to take me a while to get there though. I had already made it to Alabama before you called.”

“Alabama’s not even that far away mom.”

I laughed. “You need to pay more attention to geography if you think Alabama is close.”

“You can fly.” Again, I could hear his friends talking and laughing.

“I can’t believe you are talking about my super powers in front of your friends. You know I don’t like people to know that I can fly.”

“Mom!”

“Besides, I’m not strong enough to carry the truck with me all the way back from Alabama.”

“Please just come pick me up!”

“I am! I’m on my way right now.”

“Wait, so you mean you are talking to me on the phone while you are driving? That’s not safe, mom!”

“Ok, fine. You are right. Bye!”

I set my phone down with a chuckle. I’m so glad he’s a good sport.

 

Spock, They Ain’t

Children are some of the most logical people on Earth.

Assuming, that is, that children are the only people on Earth.

Of course they aren’t, which makes living with them baffling at times.

I’ll use my two boys as examples.

It’s been raining. A lot. On Saturday, my mom and I returned from a rainy trip to the store and after a series of suggestions between adults, my umbrella was placed open in the hall shower to drip dry. It didn’t rain on Sunday so I didn’t think about my umbrella until Monday morning when I prepared to head to work in the rain. By then, I had forgotten about the shower.

I looked for my umbrella near the front door, where it is usually stored, and it wasn’t there. I asked my husband if he had seen it. He hadn’t. I texted my mom to ask where she had put it. She reminded me that my dad had placed it in the shower. After checking the bathroom and not finding it, my husband asked Daryl, now 15 years old, if he had seen the umbrella in the bathroom. He said no.

Later that morning, I was bemoaning the loss of my umbrella and wondering how it had disappeared from the bathroom.

“Oh, that was your umbrella?” Daryl asked.

“Yes.”

“It was in the shower so I moved it next to the toilet.”

“So when you were asked if you had seen my umbrella in the bathroom, you said no because you didn’t know if the umbrella you saw in the bathroom was mine or not.”

“Yeah.”

“Because umbrellas are such a common presence in the bathroom.”

“Well! I didn’t know!”

The umbrella, in case you are curious, is still missing.

But let’s move on to Hal, the newly-minted 10 year old. Double digit age has not enhanced his logical reasoning skills either.

Last night, we overheard the boys arguing over a charging cable. Daryl was telling Hal to not use Daryl’s charging cable without asking and Hal was claiming that since Daryl’s phone was at 40% and Hal’s Kindle Fire was dead, he ought to get to use the cable even though it wasn’t his.

“Hal! Come here!” my husband called from another room. “Do you need a charger?”

“No,” Hal responded.

Jane (now a legal adult, by the way) and I chuckled.

“You don’t need a cable to charge your Kindle Fire?”

“No.”

“Is your Kindle Fire dead?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a charging cable for it?”

“No.”

“So you need a cable to charge your Kindle Fire.”

“No! I don’t!”

Umm. Ok. The three of us just shook our heads and laughed as he walked back down the hall.