A boy insulting another boy is not the end of the world

tl;dr Boys are way different than girls and aren’t little meanies because they call another boy a name

Raising a son is hard. And I have to say that raising a son as a single mom or a mom with no help from dad is probably the hardest thing that can be done as a parent today because there are so many societal “norms” that are being applied to young boys that sometimes letting a boy’s natural character out means that he’s in some way a problem child. I am not complaining about raising a son in any way, shape or form. Instead I am saying that raising a son can be challenging, particularly when the natural character of a boy is at odds with what a parent, or society in general, deems appropriate.

The reason I say this is because of an incident I learned about today involving my son. He has had his share of scraps and run-ins this school year, and has been spoken to quite a bit for behavior and behavior related issues. To me, this is to be expected for an eight year old boy. Hell, when I was his age I was doing much of the same stuff he’s doing today. Pretty much every boy in my school was. I think that’s because, in general, boys have a way about them that is unique to boys. We are loud, aggressive, forward, vocal, sometimes condescending, sometimes domineering, sometimes mean and sometimes rude. I am not saying these are all good qualities. I’m just saying, put a group of boys (or men) in a room and in a short amount of time you will see all of these qualities manifest in some capacity among the males in the room.

As boys, we know this. We live this. We expect this from other boys. And because of that, we, as boys, challenge the norms that we are faced with (that is another quality of boys). When we see a boy that might be bigger, stronger, smarter, faster… our inclination is to establish dominance over that boy. We do that in various ways, from hurling insults to competing in sports to physically dominating another boy. And sometimes, as a stronger, smarter, faster boy, we are challenged by another boy trying to establish dominance of his own. Again, this is not only understood among boys, it’s expected. And how we as boys handle these situations begins to identify us among our sphere of influence. This process begins at a very young age and continues for most, if not all, of a man’s life. To understand this concept, observe a group of guys enjoying drinks and talking. How long does it take before one of the guys insults one of his friends, calls him a name or challenges his manhood? How long does it take for a man to establish his own amazingness by telling stories of his work, or how he handled a situation with a coworker, or how he handled something with his kids? It is the way we are with each other.

The incident that my son was involved in went like this… he was playing a game of Mercy with another boy. When the other kid lost, the kid began to whine about it to which my son replied “Stop being a little girl”. Now to those that don’t understand boys, this might come across as rude, condescending or even bullying. To those of us who grew up on the playground, we know this is a way of establishing presence and dominance among our peers. While I am not excusing the conduct of my son, I think it needs to be stated that among boys, games of strength and bravado always come at a cost in that there will inherently be a winner and a loser. In both the winning and the losing, there is a way to conduct yourself that is honorable among other boys. There are also ways to conduct yourself that are less than honorable among boys. So when a boy behaves in a way that is “dishonorable” among the group, it is natural for another boy to call him on that. This happens quite often in regular daily activities of a lot of men (and women, too, but probably not in as pronounced a way as with the guys). Again, I am not saying it is right or wrong, I am merely saying that this is to be expected, particularly among boys.

In the case of my son and his behavior, it is easy to look at him and say he was being mean or bullying the other boy. Personally, I think that’s a load of crap. Bullying, to me, would be something like my son seeing another boy, that he isn’t close with, wearing a pink shirt or sporting long hair and, out of nowhere, approaching him with a “What are you, a girl?”. To me, that is not only bullying but completely unacceptable behavior. It is unwarranted, unmerited and totally inappropriate. But in the case of two boys playing a game of strength and one boy losing then whining about it, to be derided for it in some way, to me, is not bullying. It is playground politics. It’s the same playground politics that say if we’re playing dodgeball and I know you can’t catch, you’re the target I’m throwing at. It’s the same playground politics that say if we’re playing tag and you’re the slow kid, you’re getting tagged first. And it is also the same politics that say if you’ve handled being the slow kid, getting tagged and not being able to get out of it while still being cool about it, you’re probably gonna end up being tight with a couple of dudes that will make sure you are never tagged.

Now moms, this is for you: boys and girls are different in many, many ways. How we feel things is different. How we respond is different. But trying to make your boy understand things from a girl’s perspective – or even YOUR perspective – will more than likely not work most of the time. While your boy may nod at you and say “yes momma, I understand”, the chances of it sticking with him are pretty slim. This is because you can never really take the character out of the boy. You can punish it, discipline it… even make him feel bad for it. But ultimately his character will continue to shine through – good or bad – and he will do what he will naturally do. If you are a single mom raising a son, or if your son’s dad isn’t as involved as he should be, please know that your best bet as his parent is to lead, coach and teach your son how to manage his boyness. Don’t condemn him for being what he naturally is. Don’t try to stifle his character or shut it down, but instead find creative ways to let that character of his flourish. No, that isn’t easy, but it is much less frustrating and much less likely to cause resentment from him later on life.

Happy 14th Birthday Sarah!

It seems like every week I am blogging about one of my kids’ birthdays. Today happens to be Sarah’s birthday, my oldest daughter. She is 14 years old today and I have to say, I cannot seem to keep up with my daughter’s ever advancing age. It is really amazing to watch your kids grow up. Over the past few years I have watched Sarah grow from my little baby girl to my little girl to my big girl to my young woman of a daughter.

Today she is wearing makeup, dressing herself quite fashionably, writing profusely, singing wonderfully and playing the piano amazingly. She is smart, witty, funny and to be honest, pure awesomeness backed by an adorable smile. And I’ve had the pleasure of watching all of that develop.

To my dear daughter, I just want to say that I am so very proud of the young woman you have become. Not a day goes by that you don’t amaze me in some capacity. I am so honored and proud to be called your dad.

And for those of you that may not know, she is also a blogger. She’s been publishing her blog, Sarah Said, for some time now. If you get the chance, stop by her blog and have a read. It is just one of the many ways that she will knock your socks off.

Happy 13th birthday Sarah

Today my oldest child, my daughter Sarah, turns 13 years old. And I am so not sure what to do with that.

I can remember vividly the moment she was born. How she looked when she came into this world, how small she was and soft she was. I remember her trip home from the hospital and how we spent every minute of the first 15 months of her life parenting right out of the books.

I remember when she started walking, talking, learning, growing. I remember when she learned to ride a bike, when she got her ears pierced for the first time, the first time she spent the night at a friends house, the first time we left her home alone for a few minutes to jaunt to the store.

Most recently I can remember her developing into a young woman, changing physiologically, getting super tall, looking older. 13 years passed me by in about three paragraphs.

Where does that time go? When you have as many kids as I do time does move pretty quick. Anyone that tells you a minute is a minute never had a house full of kids. But 13 years? I mean, they just started last week it seems. And no sooner did I take her out of diapers than I am preparing her for high school, her first work for money and the prospect of driving lessons in a few years.

I am a blessed man to have the children I have. Each of them is independent and individual, and each has their own unique quarks, personalities and characteristics that personifies who they are. Sarah is an outstanding musician. She can play just about any stringed instrument and can readily learn the tune for a song on the piano in a matter of seconds.

She is a drama queen. Not like your usual kicking and screaming, throwing a tantrum type drama queen (not that she hasn’t done that before) but the kind that loves the stage, theater and acting. She has an amazing sense of humor, sometimes bordering on gross or dry, but always funny and always well past her age level.

She has a keen eye for fashion and designs dresses whenever she has the time to doodle in her journal. She also loves to work on her comic strip “The Robinsons” from time to time, showing a sense of humor and wisdom well beyond her years.

And the characteristic that I love about her the most, one that the entire family is blessed with daily, is her ability to belch like a longshoreman. There is not a person on this planet that can rip ’em like Sarah can. I love you for that baby. 😉

Seriously though, I have had a hard time coming to grips with my daughter’s coming of age. She is an amazing kid and is turning into an amazing 13 year old young woman today. I am so happy for her, so proud of her, so glad to be her father and so ecstatic that I get to experience her 13th birthday with her and our family. Few men get to live the life I live when it comes to children and family.

So as I sign off of this little emotional rant, I would like to offer this suggestion to you parents, and specifically you fathers… love your children mightily. Men, if you have daughters, treat them like the lady you would expect her future husband to treat her like. Tell her she’s beautiful, smart, funny and awesome. Tell her you are a better man because she is your daughter. Let her know what she means to you as a man and as a father.

Every little girl needs to know her parents, specifically daddy, loves her. Make sure your son(s) and daughter(s) know it today.

Happy birthday my Sarah. I love you baby.

Going through a teen life crisis

A few days ago my friend Ray called me up and brought to my attention that in a few weeks he and I were going to be father’s of teen aged daughters. Not that I needed any more worries on my plate right now. Thanks Ray!

Seriously, I have given it a bit of thought over the last few months. My daughter Sarah, my first born, will be turning 13 in just a few weeks (April 2, if you want to send cash and prizes). Ray’s daughter Kayla will be turning 13 on April 19 (or is the April 16? I always forget). So in just a few short weeks I am going to have a teen aged daughter.

And about fifteen months and a few short weeks from now I will have a second teen aged daughter. And frankly I am overwhelmed by it.

I have been looking forward to this time. I have dreamed of what it would be like to welcome my daughter into young adulthood, into an age of maturity, into the “teens”. But then I realized that for the most part, 13 is just a number.

Yes, it is a meaningful number. Most kids consider 13 to be a huge milestone in their young lives. I did. I remember turning 13 and thinking to myself “I’m a man now. Awesome.”. But to be honest, from that point on I can remember very little about being 13 or even being a teenager for that matter.

But I so want something special for my daughter. I want her to have a grand welcome party into teenhood. I want her to have a 13th birthday to remember. I want her to know that I feel as crazy about this as she does. Because I do. It is huge. For her, and for me, too.

I am not sure still what I am going to do. But I do know that I am going to stop sweating this whole “coming of age” bit and just continue to enjoy my children and the days of their youth. 13 has come so quickly that I can hardly remember the past 12. And I still have four more 13’s to experience. So I think that this 13, the first 13, will be a bit of a special 13 for me.

And I am sure it will be for Sarah as well.

Teaching your child beyond the textbook

The other day I was at my sister’s house. While I was there I noticed by niece doing her math homework and as I sat next to her my sister asked me to help her because she was having a hard time with it. As I reviewed the material and looked at the problem it became clear that my niece’s struggle with her homework was not because she couldn’t do it or because it was too hard. The struggle was that context of the problem was completely irrelevant to her and as such, didn’t offer much in the way of motivating her.

So I decided to do to her what I do to my kids: teach her outside the textbook in a real life context that would make sense to her. This isn’t a cutting-edge principle by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one in which many parents fail to provide adequately for their children’s learning. And please don’t take that to mean that parents are failures at teaching. To the contrary, parents that invest time into their children are smashing successes. It’s just that often children need more out of their young education than their school or teacher can give them (hence my love for homeschooling).

The problem that my niece was working was pretty simple as it was stated: “A basketball team has won 15 out of 21 games. What percentage of games did they win?” Simple enough, right? But beyond setting up a percentage division equation, where is the thought supposed to come from in this problem? When is the last time you had a problem to solve that was written down on a piece of paper for you?

So after I explained how to set up the necessary equations to determine a percentage from a total and a quantity and I threw a few problems at her. The first was a handful of crayons. There were broken crayons and complete crayons. I asked her to first tell me what the total was. Then I asked her to count how many of the crayons were complete. Then I asked her to tell what percentage of crayons were complete.

We moved on from there to looking at the complete crayons and I asked her to tell me how many of the complete crayons had yellow wrappers and then tell me the percentage of complete crayons that had yellow wrappers. Each time I asked her to set the problem up on paper only after she was able to look at the situation and determine the variables and values for herself.

Then I gave her another problem, a little more relevant to what she does for fun. She is one a swim team. So I told her that there is a swim team that just competed at the championships. The team had 150 swimmers on the team. Of those 150 swimmers 20% were girls under the age of 12. I then asked her how many of the girls on the team were under 12. After that I told her that the coach wanted to surprise the girls under 12 on the team by taking them to a water park to celebrate their season. But the coach found out at the last minute that only kids 8 and over were allowed in the park. I told her that there were 9 girls on the team that under 8 years old that wouldn’t be allowed to go. I then asked her to calculate the percentage of girls under 12 that would not be allowed to go to the water park. Then, as a recap, I asked he to tell me the percentage of the swim team those 9 girls represented.

I set up problems like this for my kids all the time. I can, because I am one of their teachers. Very seldom do I take a problem as it was written in a book and hand it to them to solve. I am actually looking for a few things from my kids when I teach them, none of which is available from them calculating numbers on a page.

The first thing I want them to do is understand the nature of the problem they are solving. Setting up a solution to a problem has to start with understanding the problem at hand. If not, well your foundation will suck and will ultimately lead to potentially questionable results.

The next thing I want them to do is think about the simplest way to solve the problem. Complex problems can sometimes be solved by simple means. But looking at something and thinking right away that it is a huge problem and then getting worked up over it can and usually does lead to something going haywire. Thinking about the nature of the problem often presents potential paths to a solution, and sometimes even offers a simple solution.

After figuring the best way to solve the problem I like my kids to setup the way in which they will solve it. This can be the part where they write and equation, or using block put some on one side of a table and some on the other, or using army men or … you get the point. Whatever path they have chosen to solve the problem needs to then be converted to a solvable schematic.

From there it is just a matter of arithmetic or simple logic. When it comes to math I am really not at all concerned with the correct answer being returned so much as I am with the correct means to a solution being used. Arithmetic is the easier of the things to teach when it comes to math. Logic, not so much.

And such is the case with almost all disciplines of education. Language, history, science… all disciplines have challenges that need to be solved, solutions to those challenges and basics that are used in those solutions. unfortunately schools, textbooks and teachers often have to rely on making things as simple as they can for the bulk of the students being taught and this often results in many students that could learn more or learn faster being restrained and often retarded in their learning.

But if you are a parent you have opportunities every day to test your children, teach your children and train your children. In fact, it isn’t so much an opportunity as it is a responsibility. And it is a responsibility that parents must necessarily take seriously given the condition of our public education system.

Wrapping it up

Just for grins I gave this problem to my three older daughters yesterday after watching a cake competition on Food Network. Sarah gave me the answer before I finished telling her the problem. Lets see how well you do:

Say you are making a stacked cake. The bottom layer of the cake is a perfect square in shape with a known side length of L. Now say we are going to put a round cake on top of this layer and we want the round cake to be exactly in the middle of the square cake below it. The round cake will have a diameter, D, that is smaller than the length L of the square cake. How would you determine where on the square cake to place the round cake so that the round cake was exactly in the middle of the square cake?

Ready? Go!

Between a father and his son

Last night, when I got home, I was tired. And hungry. And ready to rest. I wanted some quiet time and some relaxation time. Did I get that? No. Am I complaining? No, though it sounds that way. What I got was something better.

As the night wore on I noticed my son was just all over the place. He was loud, getting into stuff, moving things, climbing things, just doing things. He apparently had a bunch of pent up energy that needed exhausting in some capacity. So as he was doing something he probably should not have been doing down the hallway I went to him and asked him “Dude, you want daddy to go thrash you in the bedroom?”. You should have seen those three year old eyes light up.

“Yes!” he said as he dropped everything in his arms and ran to my room. I unlocked the door (it is locked specifically because of him) and he ran to my bed laughing his head off. As he was about to make it on to the bed I tackled him, and the fun began. We wrestled, tickled, punched, swung, and punched each other for a food fifteen minutes before he said “Dad, lets play boxing.”. How could I resist that?

So we started wailing on each other. Not hard of course, but with enough force to know that we were hitting each other. He was loving every minute of it. Then we started wrestling again. And tickling. And thrashing. And then it happened… he ran into me trying to tackle me and I didn’t really notice until he bounced off of my shoulder. Looking down at him I noticed his lip was bleeding so I told him to hang on while I got some tissue for his mouth. His reply? “No dad, I want to keep playing boxing.”

I cleaned up his mouth anyway. Then we got to boxing again. And it was just after this that Sandi walked in with cookies and the fund and games stopped right then. It was a blast, but it got better this morning.

AJ decided he wanted to come into my bed this morning as I was waking up. I let him and went to take my shower. As I left the bathroom after finishing my shower I noticed he was under the covers. Then suddenly he threw open the covers trying to scare me. He wanted more.

Now this is where husbanding comes in to play. Men, if you have a wife and she is in bed sleeping when you come out of the shower and your son is in that bed wanting to fight with you while your wife sleeps right next to him, you need to make a decision. The wise decision in this case is to tell your son that you need to wait.

My son didn’t understand that. But we squared it up pretty quick and, to make the situation more top his liking, I laid down next to him and we talked. We talked about boxing the night before, about him waking his sisters up, about him wanting breakfast, about his dreams from the previous night, about his toy cars. I then told him how grown up he seemed, having this wonderful conversation with me at just three and a half years old. I also mentioned to him that in a few months, when he turns four, he will be able to start going to the church class room that Alaynah gets to go to, but how that since she will be turning six she will only be with him for about two weeks.

He then told me that he wants to go to her class so he can spin the wheel and play in the bounce house and all of the fun stuff in that room. But immediately after this he told me that he would go back to his three year old class since he would be embarrassed to go to Alaynah’s class. It was as we were talking about this that Alaynah came in and our conversation was totally dashed. But it’s all good. I had an amazing talk with my son.

And therein lies the moral of this post. Men, if you have a son, or more than one son, take amoment every now and again to have some aggressive, man time with him. He wants that, no matter his age, and he will love it. He will also love that you want to spend any time with him at all and he will totally cherish that moment and remember it. Even if he doesn’t let on to it. Let him hold your tools, or wear your safety goggles, or put shaving cream on his face while he watches you shave. Let him be a boy trying to become a man.

My son loves that time. And I, as a recovering young boy myself, really look forward to those moments, too.

Kids need an island all to themselves

Last night my three older daughters spent the night in an Embassy Suites hotel room with a bunch of other young girls as part of a sleepover birthday party for a good friend of theirs. As per the instruction manual, the kids ate mostly junk food, played very hard, did all sorts of things they would normally not do and stood up way too late.

As a parent I can live with almost all of these things. All, save for the staying up way too late bit. See when a kid stays up too late he/she tends to get crankier than a hungry hippo that is tied up 20 feet away from food with a chain that is 18 feet long. In fact, the only thing worse on this planet than a cranky kid that has stayed up too late is multiples of said cranky children that have stayed up way too late.

Such is the case with my day today.

I picked the kids up this morning at about 10:30 and found out that they had stayed up until about 3:00 in the morning. Not too unusual for a sleep over (heck, there are times when they stay up almost that late, er early, at home under normal circumstances). The unusual thing was that they woke up early so that they could get their breakfast on and prepare to go home for the day. How early you ask? Around 7:00 this morning or so.

Yep, four hours of sleep. Nope, not nearly enough.

As was evidenced by the extraordinary fighting that ensued almost immediately upon them entering the car. 45 minutes is a long time by itself. Put five kids together in a car and let them loose on each other and that 45 minutes begins to feel like 45 weeks. Why five kids you ask, when only three slept over? Well, the law of child physics states that “… whenever a child is in a state of crankiness borne from lack of sleep, food, water or toilets said child will exude crankiness at a distance and to a degree equal to that of their nearest sibling, parent or other human with whom such crankiness might bear resemblance; …”. So in effect three cranky kids makes for a truck full of seven cranky people.

So right now they are all in bed. No, not just their rooms. Their beds. They need sleep. And because of the work involved in just tuning out their crankiness I now need sleep. And so does the wife. So it would seem that because of my three oldest daughters’ refusal to get to sleep at a decent hour last night the entire house is now subject to a property wide lockdown.

Now if I jut had an island that I could send all my kids to in times like this I would be able to sit back, relax and watch some Pro Bowl, seeing as it is the last NFL of the season. Actually, seeing as the Pro Bowl is played in Hawaii, perhaps it isn’t the kids that need an island all to themselves so much as it is me.

Finding things to do with your children outside the home

One of the most challenging aspects of parenting, in my opinion, is occupying your children with cool experiences that enrich them and you while at the same time building the parent/child bond that is so necessary in our families of today. For the past few years I have made it a point to get my kids out as much as possible, taking them to places like Tilden Park, the Lindsey Wildlife Museum, the Oakland Zoo, the Tech Museum of Innovation and a few others. I think it is important to get them out of the house while allowing them to experience things they enjoy and letting them learn at the same time.

In keeping with the theme this week, I am continually challenged to find things to do with the kids that will meet all of the things I want for them but still allow me to take care of them and the house as needed. With weekends being so short nowadays I am finding that my free time to take outings with the kids has been dramatically reduced in favor of cleaning the house and other domestic chores that are absolutely necessary to keeping our house running at least somewhat smoothly. Which brings me to my next question.

At what point do you forgo domestic duties to enjoy time with your family? I have always been of the mindset that family comes first. But I can see how that undermined my wife’s attempt at order in the house are when I look at how terribly behind I get when I take the kids out when I should be home handling home related business. And the more I do this the more worn out I get, which leads me to cut back on some of this and spend more time at home, which ends up in me feeling guilty that I am damaging my kids by not getting them out of the house more.

Is there a way to have the best of both worlds? I want a clean and orderly home. I want a haven for my children to be able to live, grow, learn and experience in. But I also want for my children to be able to experience life beyond the borders of our front and back yards. I want my kids to not just read about stuff but to be able to experience them and learn firsthand what the thing they are learning is really all about.

To that end I have though that there are things we can do that will not require a whole lot of time outside of the home but will still allow for a fun experience for all of us. Some of the things I am thinking are:

Of course we cannot always do everything around cleaning the house, right? At least that is what I am aiming for. Some of the other things that I have thought about that might require a little more time outside of the house, but would be incredibly fun:

Now my only contention is with how I go about doing all of these things with a sick wife at home and a home that needs desperate maintenance almost every day. But I suppose that is why I write. Because I so do not have all the answers. In fact, I don’t think I have any answers. I just have a strong desire to take care of my family and provide for them as best I can.