Now that my oldest is out in the big, bad world (i.e. Kindergarten), something has shifted. He’s no longer learning about the world just through me, but rather through every Tom, Dick and Harry he encounters along the way. The thing that’s so hard about letting our precious birds leave the nest is that the messages they inevitably receive from others make our parenting job at home ten a hundred a thousand times harder.
The nonsense my six-year-old brings home from school reminds me of the time when my cat, Murray…
Side bar: I once had a cat named Murray, which is strange because I’m deathly allergic to cats. If a cat just rubs up against my leg, I need a cortisone shot…stat. Murray was a street cat who, somehow, chose us. (It might’ve had something to do with the food my husband left for him on our front porch or the little wooden house he built for him.) We had no idea how old Murray was, but the scars on his body, the part of his tail where no hair grew, and the way he looked at us suggested he was about a hundred years old and either a war hero or a serial killer. There’s a lot more to the story of Murray, and if I ever finish my book, there will definitely be a chapter dedicated to him.
Anyhow… The nonsense my six-year-old brings home from school reminds me of the time when my cat, Murray, stood outside our back door meowing incessantly with a frog lodged in his mouth. The offering was gross and unwanted, and I shut the door on him.
There have been bad names and bad words, which, despite my imperfect parenting, I’m certain didn’t originate in my nest. (Believe me, no one will say “suck” preceded or followed by any other words in my house ever again). There have also been stubborn absolutes, like, “Mommy, 20×20=40.” No it doesn’t. Yes it does. No it doesn’t. Yes it does. So-and-so said so. That standoff went on for quite a while. Then I poured myself a glass of wine.
The stuff that has me spinning, though, are the zingers have to do with gender identity – with what it means to be a boy. I’ve been hearing a lot of this lately…
“Girls are beautiful but boys are cool.”
“Boys don’t color in the lines because boys are messy.”
“Boys don’t like writing because boys are crazy.”
“I don’t care if I get into trouble. All boys get into trouble.”
My little bird is getting troubling gender messages from his peers, teachers, video games, apps, television shows, movies, and books, all of which makes me wonder about the worth of my blood, sweat, and tears during his first five years. In spite of my constant efforts to impart the loudest and most colorful messages about tolerance, individuality, drive, kindness, respect, and a gazillion other things, my big boy is deftly buying into the notion that he’s supposed to be messy, crazy, and in trouble.
I read an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times a few months ago (“The Boys at the Back”) that suggested the epidemic of boys falling behind in school has a lot to do with their behavior. Especially among younger children, boys are at a disadvantage, because they don’t (yet) have the same level of skills (attentiveness, persistence, ability to sit still and work independently, etc.) as their female peers.
I think of that article often as I struggle to understand why my Kindergartener has adopted this frustrating “what it means to be a boy” mindset, why he’s getting in more and more trouble at school, and why he thinks carelessness and poor behavior is what’s expected of him.
I used to chuckle (with great compassion, of course) about the impossible job Mamas of girls have to protect them from a culture that sexualizes them at every turn, but every day I witness my boys accept that it’s their destiny to be messy, crazy, or in trouble, my job gets less and less cushy.
I naively imagined that by the time my little birds flew off to Kindergarten, I would sit back and watch them soar. Now, though, I’m realizing that my work has only just begun, and it must be done delicately while they’re flying (gulp) away from me.
Are you frustrated by the gender identity messages your kids have received at school or elsewhere?