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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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.

 

Daryl and the AIDS-laden Turtle

I turned down a long narrow road after picking Daryl up from football practice. As I approached the end of the road, I noticed something in the way. At first I thought it was just a bit of tire from a semi-truck, but as I got closer, I saw it for what it was.

There was a medium/smallish turtle standing still in the center of my lane, head stretched up toward the sky. The road was a divided two-lane road with curbs on the side and on the median. There was literally no way for me to go around the turtle. Maybe my truck could pass over the top of him, if he ducked his head into his shell, but I didn’t want to chance it.

“Hey,” I said to my oblivious son. “Go move the turtle.”

“Huh?”

“Go move the turtle. Take him all the way over to the other side. Not just the median and not back that way,” I said, as I motioned around us. Since my last turtle-in-the-road debacle, I had learned that you move turtles in the direction they are going. Doing anything else will just cause them to enter the road again.

“What?”

“GET OUT OF THE TRUCK. GO MOVE THE TURTLE.”

“Huh?” He looked up from his phone. “Oh, hey! Look! There’s a turtle!”

“YES! That’s what I said. Now go move him,” I said, repeating all the details of where.

“But why?”

“He’s blocking my path. Just go move him!” I said, checking that there was no one behind us.

“But what if it’s a snapping turtle?”

“It’s not.”

“But what if it is?”

“Then be careful. Just get out there and pick him up.”

Daryl exited the truck and approached the turtle with a level of caution I would typically reserve for mountain lions or rattle snakes – assuming I was being forced to approach them for some reason.

He started to pick up the turtle and it moved suddenly. Daryl jumped back. He started trying to “shoo” the turtle by pushing it with his foot. The turtle responded by running in the wrong direction and then turning to face him.

The dance continued as I rolled down my window and called out, “Just pick him up and move him!”

“But he’s trying to bite me!”

“No he’s not!”

“Yes he is!”

“Just move the turtle, boy! What’s wrong with you?” I asked, exasperated but reaching for my cell phone to catch his hesitation on film.

His fourth or fifth attempt at lifting the turtle, he didn’t jerk and let go when it moved its legs and he quickly moved it… to the median. Not to the other side of the other lane as I had instructed.

“No!” I cried out, knowing that the turtle would now have to cross the other lane as well. “Move him all the way to the other side!”

“No!” he responded in kind as he returned to the car. “He’s out of the way and there’s a car coming up behind us now.”

“Only because you took so long! Now he’s going to have to cross the other street.”

“That’ll take him a million years to get to it.” (The median was very narrow).

“No it won’t. I saw how fast he moved on you! Why were you afraid of the turtle?”

“I wasn’t afraid of the turtle.”

“You were totally afraid of the turtle.”

“No. It was an alligator snapping turtle.”

“It was not.”

“It was trying to bite me!”

“No it wasn’t!”

“It kept touching me.”

“So?”

“I’d go to pick it up and then it would start walking and its leg would touch my hand. Yuck!”

“So what?”

“It might give me AIDS.”

“You can’t get AIDS from a turtle!”

“You don’t know that.”

“Actually, I do.”

“I could have gotten AIDS.”

“Turtles don’t get AIDS. You can’t get AIDS from touching a turtle.”

“Uh-huh. He could have been rolling around in it. He could have had it all over him.”

“AIDS is a condition that you can develop if you contract the HIV virus. It’s not something that turtles can ‘pick up’ from ‘rolling around’ in the grass. HIV can’t survive out in the open long enough for that to be a thing.”

“Yes it can. I know these things. I’m in Biology.”

We traveled in silence for a while before I brought it back up. “If you had just finished picking it up, then its legs would have just sagged and not been touching you anymore.”

“No! It’d keep running. Vrrr-vrrr-vrrr,” he said, making rapid ‘running’ motions with his arms and sound effects with his mouth.

“It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s just a turtle. You are a wuss.”

“No I’m not. Man, I’m tough. That was an alligator snapping turtle!”

“No it wasn’t!”

He answered his phone about then. His dad was calling. Daryl gave him our approximate location and then sat silently as he listened to his dad talk.

I leaned over slightly and called out, “Your son was afraid of a turtle!”

“It was an alligator turtle,” he protested, “and it could have given me AIDS!”

His dad must have mentioned that the turtle couldn’t give him AIDS because turtles are cold blooded, because Daryl then said, “It’s called cold blooded AIDS. C-B-A-I-D-S. It’s real man.”

Daryl then passed on a question from his dad – what were my plans for the night.

“I need to write a blog post,” I responded.

Daryl dutifully told his dad, “She’s going to write a blog post.” Then there was the briefest pause as realization of the topic struck him, “{Smack} Hey!”

I just laughed. The phone conversation ended and we drove along in silence some more. As we approached the intersection at which I had totaled a previous car due to rubber-necking while people were dealing with a very large honest-to-goodness alligator snapping turtle, I brought it up again.

“You know, I watched an eleven year old girl in a dance leotard – BARE FOOTED – pick up an actual alligator snapping turtle, much bigger than the one you were afraid of, and carry it all the way across the highway.”

“I wasn’t afraid of it!”

“Yes you were. You are a wuss. Weaker than an eleven year old girl.”

“No! Eleven year old girls are just too young! They don’t know any better. They are too stupid to avoid them.”

“Whatever. You are a wuss.”

“Uh-huh. And is that eleven year old girl going to play football? Huh? I don’t think so.” He sat back with a smug, self-satisfied smile.

“Don’t try to change the subject. You might play football but you were afraid of a little turtle. Wuss.”

You know, don’t tell Daryl, but it might really have been a snapping turtle. It wasn’t big and I don’t think it could have gotten its head around to bite Daryl, but it was responding rather aggressively. Just don’t tell him I said that though. OK?

And in case you are wondering, Daryl knows he can’t get AIDS from a turtle. It’s just fun when he pretends to be a confidently wrong idiot and we banter back and forth. He also knows he was being timid and I know (and he knows that I know) he’s not really a wuss. Except when it comes to turtles, of course.

 

 

As Little As Possible

While I love my children dearly, sometimes I wish they had an interest in doing more than the bare minimum to get by. Many parents will probably laugh and say that this is perfectly normal, that my children are not unusual. That’s probably true but this minimalist approach to tasks has manifested itself in some crazy ways in the Bright Spots household.

First, there’s Daryl and the yard work. He’s responsible for mowing and weed-eating. The mowing he accomplishes reasonably well – it’s a riding mower. The weed-eating, on the other hand, is another story. After he claims to have finished, we will stand in the yard, looking at the tall grass along the edge of the sidewalk, driveway, house and other buildings, along the fence, around the mailbox and telephone pole and swing set and wonder what, exactly, he cut with that whirling string.

Around the trees, he’ll explain. The trees, at this point, still have visibly taller wisps of grass around them too.

There is a grass covered ramp leading up to one of our buildings and a ledge along the front. The grass along the ledge had topped six feet and the grass on the ramp was knee high. So one weekend we told him he absolutely had to weed-eat and he especially needed to make sure he got the ramp.

We came home to a ramp basically knocked down but the tall grass on either side still present. When asked, he claimed that was an area he gets with the mower. Of course, when he mows, he claims it’s grass he gets with the weed-eater. And if it was mowed grass, it wouldn’t be so much taller than all the other mowed grass.

“Daryl,” I said. “Every single piece of grass on this property has to get cut. Every time. By either the mower or the weed-eater. By you. Every blade of grass. Every. Single. Time.”

He looked at me like I was crazy.

Then there’s laundry. I had a load of “whites” dumped out on our bed. That load has towels, my husband’s undershirts, and Hal’s white socks. I asked the boys to please go fold the towels.

When I returned home, the towels had indeed been folded. But not the 2 dish towels, 1 washcloth, and 2 hand towels. And the towels still sat on our bed even though every single time I ask them to fold the towels, I then ask them to put them away in their bathroom. And Hal’s socks were strewn all across my bed. Even though he knows he’s responsible for matching up his socks and putting them away.

I mean, I guess I should have said, “Please fold the towels – and that includes towels of all sizes and all destinations so don’t forget the washcloths and dish towels. Make sure you put them all away when you are done too. And, oh, Hal, go ahead and take care of your socks.”

But quite frankly, that’s exhausting. And I’ve tried that before and I think they zone out and I get no more work out of them then when I just say “fold the towels.”

Curious about just how far this apathy goes, I set their stack of towels just outside their bathroom door. Would any of the three children pick up the stack, walk the three feet to the bathroom cabinet and put them away? It’s been a few days. You tell me.

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Staring Contest

Hal entered the dining room with a blue towel wrapped tightly around his hips, hair wet from his shower. He stared at me intently and asked, with a small enigmatic smile on his clean face, “Do my eyes look red?”

I glanced at his eyes, not sure whether I was to look at his eyeballs or the surrounding skin. I thought that maybe – maybe – the rims of his eyes, especially along the bottom might have been red. “Yeah, little bit, looks like,” I said.

He smiled and turned to his dad, who nodded. He turned back slightly to take in both of us and said, with humor in his voice, “I was having a staring contest.” He paused for dramatic effect, just long enough for me to wonder with whom. He answered that question when he resumed, “With myself in the mirror and my eyes were starting to sting.” Again he paused, looking back and forth between his patient audience members. I had time to imagine him leaning into the mirror, straining to keep his eyes open, tears forming, and then he dropped the punchline with a wide smile, “until we both blinked. At the same time.”

We both barked out a laugh, which made his smile engulf his face. The last part of the evening had been like that – Hal telling a good joke. Hal laughing freely when we gently poked fun at him. The usual strident arguing, defensive posturing, and quick, overblown outrage we have become accustomed to were all missing. Hopefully this means he is growing up. The witty personality underneath is quite a delight.

When Pants Plans Go Awry

Daryl wasn’t the only Bright Spots household member with big sartorial plans for the first day of school. And while his outfit planning made for a great comedy display, the other was more tragedy.

Hal eagerly exited bed on the first day of school and threw on one of his favorite T-shirts (chosen, incidentally, to brag about his big brother going to DI Global Finals this year – Daryl has no idea how much his little brother looks up to him) plus the running pants with the bright orange stripes down the sides and his new “sock style” sneakers. As he hurried past me, I stopped him. “Whoa, come here – step into the light.”

I then proceeded to point out to him that in addition to the sizable hole in one knee, the pants were noticeably too short for him. This is a common problem for my fourth grade beanpole who has easily topped five foot but isn’t any bigger around than his small classmates. Pants are almost always too short – either that, or way too wide around the waist.

“Why don’t you put on some jeans instead?” I asked.

He returned a few minutes later wearing jeans and a very sour expression. “It looks awful!” he declared as he flopped onto my bed. I glanced at his sister and shrugged. He looked like a little boy wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers – the classic American kid.

“It looks fine,” I said. “What’s wrong with it?”

He gestured to his legs and feet with exaggerated disgust and with the general air that I must be stupid if I can’t see it. “They don’t look right with these shoes!” he cried before throwing himself back on the bed.

“What’s wrong with the jeans?” asked Jane. “They look fine.”

More rapid, frustrated gesturing before he sputtered, “They are too THICK!”

“Too think?” I asked, confused. “They are jeans. They are the thickness of jeans. It doesn’t look bad.”

“No! No! They are too THICK!!”

He was rapidly losing control so I headed to his room to look for alternatives while his sister tried to discern what he meant. Eventually she got out of him that “thick” really meant “wide.” He didn’t like the straight-leg jeans, preferring the tapered style of sweats he usually wears.

“So you want some skinny jeans?” she asked. I cringed as she said that, already knowing the answer.

“No!! I don’t like skinny jeans! They hurt behind my knees when I sit down!”

I called him in to his room to try on some other running pants I found. “I’m concerned they are too short like the others,” I said. “But if you want to try them, here.”

He tried them on and sure enough, they were too short. He insisted they were fine.

“Honey,” I tried. “I don’t want the other kids to make fun of you for wearing pants that are too short. That’s like one of the big things that gets pointed out. They really are too short. Let’s try to find something else.”

“Too short? Too short? Why would Mimi buy me pants if they are too short??!!”

“Well, they probably weren’t too short when she bought them.”

“No, I mean Mimi bought me two pairs of these. Two. Why would she buy two different sizes?”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“The others aren’t too short. Why would these be too short? Huh?!”

“I don’t know. Maybe those are too short too…”

“NO!! They aren’t!”

“Ok,” I soothed, as I looked in the hamper. Extracting the pair he had worn the day before, I continued, “Are these the ones that fit?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, well, these are 14-16’s. The ones you are wearing are 10-12’s – no wonder they are too short.”

After a discussion on whether the pair from the hamper were too dirty – me explaining that he wore them to church and then just around the house, he’d be fine – he changed into his fourth pair of pants for the morning and the crisis was resolved. Such drama on the first day of school!

Daryl Goes to High School

Daryl knew exactly what he wanted to wear his first day of high school. He was animated telling me about it, dropping into his faux hip-hop mannerisms he uses when he’s talking about how cool he is. He tends to lean to one side, drop his shoulder, and put his hands in front of him, gesturing like a rapper, one side of his mouth turned up in a knowing smirk, his eyes barely open, head nodding, and an occasional smack of the lips.

“I got it all planned out,” he said. “Imma gonna wear my…{smack} Adidas sweatpants and my… {smack} Adidas shoes and then my Adidas sweatshirt… yeahhhhh…” Slow, ‘cool’ nods of the head as he tilts back and slightly to one side.

“You are going to wear a sweatshirt. On August 20th. In Texas,” I replied.

“Yeahhh….it’s gonna be gucci maaaann…”

“You are going to look stupid. The upperclassmen are going to look at you and think, ‘look at that idiot wearing a sweatshirt when it’s a hundred degrees outside.”

“Nah, man. I’m gonna be killing it. See, Imma gonna be all Adidas. Imma even gonna wear my Adidas underwear.”

“How is anyone going to know you are wearing Adidas underwear if you are wearing a sweatshirt?”

“Easy… see… ya just pull your pants down a little like this…” He pulled one side of his pants down a few inches past his hips to reveal the waistband of his underwear. “Yeahhhh…” More head nods and arm gestures as he strutted across the room in front of me.

“Still, no one is going to see your underwear if you are wearing a sweatshirt, even if you pull your pants down a little,” I said.

“No, mama, you see, it’s like this. See, ya juss… ya juss… lift your shirt up like this see? You walk around, you just kinda lift it and go, ‘what’s up bruh? Yeah… iss aright man…’.” He kind of flopped his arms up under the bottom of his shirt and held his arms like he was greating his buddies from the hood or something, nodding and walking like he had a limp.

I shook my head.

“You are going to look like an idiot if you walk around like that.”

“Nah, man, I coo bro…” he said, pulling the other side of his pants down so he had that awful street look where his pants are barely hanging on and his underwear is almost fully revealed. I knew he was tweaking me then.

“You gonna wear Adidas socks to complete the look?” I asked.

“Oh, hecks no. I’m a Nike man! I be wearing my Nike socks! What you talkin’ about?”

Yes, he really said that. Yes he did. After describing his four piece Adidas outfit he was proud to wear on the first day, he declared himself a Nike man and thought I was crazy to suggest he wear anything other than Nike socks.

Kids are crazy, but I think teenage boys may take the cake.

And guess what? First day of school? He wore a T-shirt that he has had for at least two years. Not Adidas, not Nike.

“What about the Adidas sweatshirt?” I asked.

“Ahh… it’s in the hamper.”

“You gonna wear it anyway?”

“Nah. It’s dirty.”

He had a day and a half to wash that sweatshirt after announcing his perfect first day of school attire. I guess the desire to look his imagined best doesn’t go deep enough to override general teenage laziness, forgetfulness, and that overwhelming need to get as much Fortnite in as possible before summer ends.

Fine by me. Saved me all the “Sweatshirt? Really? Is that boy crazy?” questions I would have gotten when I shared the first-day-of-school pictures on Facebook.