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.

Incentive driven motivation

Yesterday, while doing some yard work I went into the back yard to handle some massive overgrowth in our lawn. Completely disgusted with our yard, and utterly frustrated with the growth of the grass that my push mower just could not cut, I decided that the yard would just have to wait a little while so I could focus on the front of my house.

My 12 year old daughter, Rebekah, had other plans. Always the entrepreneur, she actually offered to cut the grass for a mere $10. To which I promptly replied “thanks, but no thanks”. I was of the opinion that the grass was maybe a $3 job since I had already cut some of it and the lawn is not that spread out.

So Rebekah sweetened the deal a little bit, offering to not only cut the grass but straighten up the patio. After much back and forth over price and what the work would cover for that price, we agreed on the following:

  • Cut the grass
  • Clean up all dog poop
  • Clean up all trash
  • Straighten up all patio furniture and toys
  • Clean up the tan bark areas
  • Sweep the patio and sidewalks
  • Do it all within three hours (from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM)

And the cost? $15, as agreed upon by the two of us, which to Rebekah was a bargain and to me was a steal.

So while I was out in the front yard working up a sweat she was out in the backyard earning her money. And you know what? For her, I discovered, money is an excellent incentive.

She managed to accomplish everything on the list of things to do (with the exception of cutting the grass completely, but this was no fault of hers). And she did it in two hours, not three. I was so impressed by her work ethic, her focus and her quality of work that I actually paid her $20 for doing such a fine job.

Looking back on this, I know there is a lesson in this. I could have asked the kids, all of the kids – you know, the ones that made that mess? – to clean the yard they helped dishevel. And I would have saved myself $20 in the process. But Rebekah, who has no problem working for her earnings approached me with a proposition of services rendered in exchange for payment. And ultimately it was that payment that drive her to accomplish such an impressive amount of quality in her work.

So if I take anything away from this, outside a clean yard of course, it will be that with the proper incentive, almost anyone can accomplish almost anything.

The best way to start a day ever

This morning, when my son woke up and after he told mom good morning, he sought me out. He had something to give me. And as he stepped down the hallway with purpose and authority I heard him call out to me.

“Daddy, I have a pwesent fow you.”

“What is it son?”

“It’s a hug and a kiss. I love you daddy.”

And with that he jumped into my arms and hugged me as big as his big boy arms could hug a dad of my size.

I’m certain he doesn’t know how much he touched my heart this morning, or how good of a day he gave me today. But hopefully I can share this with him so that he can look forward to those moments with his kids. I am a truly blessed father.

Since when have the courts become parents?

Someone recently sent me a link to a court case in which a judge ordered homeschooled children into public school based on his decision that the children needed more ‘focus’. This, despite the fact the kids in question had tested above their grade levels.

A North Carolina judge has ordered three children to attend public schools this fall because the homeschooling their mother has provided over the last four years needs to be “challenged.”

The children, however, have tested above their grade levels – by as much as two years.

The decision is raising eyebrows among homeschooling families, and one friend of the mother has launched a website to publicize the issue.

The ruling was made by Judge Ned Mangum of Wake County, who was handling a divorce proceeding for Thomas and Venessa Mills.

I couldn’t believe this was a real and true story. This kind of injustice doesn’t happen in America. Does it? I know judges have an appointed authority to interpret the law and enforce it accordingly, but if you read some of Judge Mangum’s own quotes you can’t help but be left with the same questions I am sure all people who read them have.

How can any judge see this case in the manner in which Judge Mangum is seeing it? How can he favor so heavily in favor of a father that has admittedly committed adultery, repeatedly, and has even gone so far as to admit that he took time away form his kids to pursue relations with his mistress? How can this judge feel as negatively as he does toward Mrs. Mills?

I am astonished by this to be honest. If you are a home schooling parent I would encourage you, if you are not already a member, to become a member of the Home School Legal Defense Association. It is an invaluable resource for home schooling families and something that every home school parent should be a part of.

And if you haven’t yet, stop on by The Homeschool Injustice blog set up by Mills family friend Robyn Williams and offer a word of encouragement to Venessa or support for the case that she is so valiantly fighting right now.

Spending some work time bonding

Today I had the awesome pleasure of spending a few hours working. I know, that doesn’t sound right. The truth is I wasn’t happy so much about the work but that company that I had with me. My oldest daughter, Sarah, who is in Junior High but seems to have the homework load of a college Senior, was with me.

We had planned this out for a while because she has struggled somewhat in getting her homework done on time. When I asked her why she was having a hard time she told me that she was having trouble staying focused on the work she was supposed to be doing. Like father, like daughter, I guess.

Anyhow, a few weeks ago I spent a few hours at a local coffee shop drinking coffee and coding. And I was able to accomplish great things that day. It was quiet, for the most part, peaceful and there were no interruptions. So I figured that if it was good for me that day then it would be good for both Sarah and I today.

We got up early, packed our backpacks and headed out the door for a nice brisk walk up the street to Mission Coffee. We got there, set up shop at the big table and got cracking. It was nice to be there with her, too. Even though we didn’t talk much while we were there we did get a good bit of talking time in while walking there and walking home. So altogether we had about 40 minutes of daddy/daughter time this morning on our way to work. And work we did.

After only three hours or so we were ready to call it a day. Well, we were ready to come home. I still had a boat load of work to do but that was besides the point.

The nice thing was that in just a few hours this morning she was able to get a ton of homework done and I was able to get through quite a bit of stuff that needed my attention. I wasn’t able to get it all done and I still needed to work for several hours after coming home and making a call to a client. But overall it was a nice experience for both Sarah and I. And it is one that I think I will be trying to do again until at least the end of this school year.

That’s one small step for a Sarah

And one gigantic, enormous, monstrous step for dad.

My oldest daughter, Sarah, was invited to spend the night with a friend of hers for her friend’s birthday party on Saturday night. Part of the festivities were going to involve shopping and a girls day out with her friend. I was cool with that. But I was shocked and awed when her friend’s mom came to pick Sarah up and told us that she was going to be dropping Sarah and her friend off at the mall. By themselves.

This is the first time ever that I was faced with the prospect of one of my children alone in the great big world all by herself. Well, not really by herself, but more, I guess, without me. Of course her friend did have a cell phone (and no I am not getting Sarah a cell phone yet) and both Sandi’s and my phone were on. And they were only going to be there for three hours. And her friend had done this before, so all in all, it was a pretty safe experience. But it was more than a little nerve racking.

The nice part about the experience was that Sarah’s friend’s mom went over a good set of pretty basic rules that reiterated the rules that Sandi and I have laid for out kids as it relates to talking to strangers, scams brought on by adults and how to conduct yourself in places like stores when it comes to money, what you say, how you say it and what you do with things that you have already purchased. So it was encouraging to know that my kid was receiving the same message from another parental source.

It was also encourage when, at about 3:00 on Saturday, my daughter called me to tell me she was going to be leaving the mall because her friend’s mom had come to pick them. She also told me she was ok, that she had a great time and the her friend was keeping her alive “for the most part”.

So I would say it was not a bad day for a few first time experiences. I am proud of the way my daughter handled it. And I am proud of the way my wife handled it. I am also proud of the way I handled it, and though I think I am still going to be a little slow to go along with something like this any time soon, I can say that I am confident that if either of my two oldest daughters were put into a position in which they were alone in a large open square, they would be more than able to handle the situation and be totally safe doing so.

Boys vs Girls: Having a meltdown

From time to time I notice large scale differences between my son and my daughters. They are not always magnificent, spectacular differences in nature, but they are always widely and significantly different in terms of conduct.

One such example happened this afternoon. We spent a long afternoon at Ikea , one that included lunch, playing, dreaming and a butt load of walking. We went there right after church so there was no rest time in between church and the store. Throw in the fact that ever floor we hit was a little cooler than the floor above it and you can quickly gather that our entire family was tired, hot then cold then colder, irritable and generally of a cranky nature.

In the past I have become somewhat accustomed to my daughters crankiness and fits of rage. But having a son has shed some light on the different ways in which boys and girls handle that stage of melting down that necessarily happens when the day has gone on too long for them and no one is catering to their every whim. Let me explain…

As we left the store we walked toward our truck as a family. Rebekah and Adriannah decided they were going to race to the truck. Alaynah, being the big girl that she is, took off after them. My son, being the big man that he is, followed suit. Rebekah hit the truck first, not surprisingly, followed by Annah, Alaynah and Aaron. Oh yeah, and Aaron’s scream. See, he had it in his mind that he was supposed to win. And when he didn’t win, he got upset.

If this was one of my daughters I would be able to tell you that she would have probably gotten quiet, maybe telling you that she didn’t want to be your friend or didn’t want to talk to you anymore, maybe cross her arms. Very emotional, very heart felt. My son… well, he went in a different direction.

After screaming, well yelling really, very loudly, he screamed directly at Alaynah, telling her, in effect, that he wanted to win and the she was supposed to let him win. Then he screamed again. Then he put both hands on the truck as if he was going to push it out of the parking spot it was in. And when it didn’t move, he reached under the rear quarter panel and tried to pick it up and throw it. Yes, my son wanted to pick the truck up and throw it. It was only when he couldn’t get it off the ground that the tears came.

Broken, frustrated and thwarted as a mighty man of truck throwing strength, my son became a little boy once again. And I had no choice but to pick him up, hold him, tell him I love him and then tell him that next time, if he wants to win, he needs to earn it because there is nothing at all the he will ever do in which a win will be given to him. Of course, I told him this in terms a three year old might understand some day. But he had to hear it. More importantly though was that he had to hear that I loved him. Right then, in the middle of his meltdown.

Which takes me to a place where my kids aren’t really all that different. When they are broken, frustrated and thwarted what all they really need is a little love. But then, isn’t that something we all need when we go through all that stuff, too?

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.

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.