Saturday, January 22, 2011

Adventures in Real Parenting: And Feed Them On Your Dreams

Last night I got a lesson on what we protect our children from and what we give to them. No surprise that this lesson came in the form of language.

We finally had Sophie's twice postponed birthday party. First - if I ever write here again that we're doing an overnight party that isn't for adults only and requires a safe words, please email me and remind me of this post. I am so not cut out for this mother gig. 

A side lesson I picked up - precocious and quirky becomes annoying and weird in the span of two hours. Please, parents, encourage individuality, but balance it with some social skills. I'm not talking socially awkward (I  see that every day in the mirror). I'm talking about the kid who touches everything in the kitchen, thinks every word she says is funny and clever and believes being a picky eater makes her interesting.

When my kids have friends over, I try to stay out of the way, but since there were so many of them (eleven) and I was the only adult and the cats were locked in my bedroom to avoid being traumatized by too much attention, I stayed in the dining room and kitchen where I could keep on ear on things. This meant I heard some of the gossip and my heart sank when my own kid participated. I pulled her aside and told her so. "Be better than that."

Somehow the word prostitute came up and the precocious girl asked what that meant. One of the girls started to explain, but Sophie interrupted. "No. You don't need to know." The subject dropped. A little later Sophie sidled up to me and mentioned that her friend was sheltered and maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I agreed.

As it turned out, this was a blending of two different sets of girls from two different social avenues in Sophie's life. I don't advise this for future party-planning purposes. Not surprisingly, this led to a divergence of activities. One set put on their matching tops and plaid pajama bottoms and decided it was time to do some dance routines they knew from cheerleading. A couple of non-cheerleaders, my own included, went along with it.  The other set of girls fled to another corner of the house and then eventually came and hung around me in the dining room. One of them said she thought I was nice. I doubt she felt that way when she left this morning.

When we were alone in the kitchen the Precocious Girl told me that she doesn't like it that people know so much more stuff than she does. "They just know different things," I said.

"Yeah, but it makes me...." she paused. I think she wanted to say different. Bad different. I made a quick comparison in my head about how we'd raised our kids versus parents who shield their children from so much. We could do better and they could lighten up a little and all of our children would be fine. 

I had my back turned when Precocious Girl opened the pantry door and yelled "What is that doing there?"

She pointed at the bottles of liquor I'd stashed in the pantry so that The Inspecting Mother wouldn't wonder why I leave alcohol out in the open in a house full of kids. (Answer: My kids are used to it being there and have never shown any interest in it and I never even think about it except I did yesterday as I got ready for the party in anticipation of having to pass Inspecting Mom's test.)

"Those are drinks for adults."

"It's alcohol! You have alcohol in your house!" Was she serious or goofing around?

"My parents don't drink! We've never had alcohol in our house. I once saw my daddy drinking a beer at a barbecue and it made me so upset!" Okay, so she was serious.

"Many people choose not to drink. Drinking is a personal choice. And it's never wise to drink too much."

"You drink?"

"Occasionally, yes."

She squinted her eyes and surveyed me before moving to the refrigerator to see what might be interesting there. She examined the things cluttering the front and sides of it.  "Ooooh. You have a bad word on your fridge."


"A bad word! Here!" She put her finger on the magnet that reads You Say I'm a Bitch Like It's a Bad Thing. "We don't use words like that at our house."

This drew the attention of a couple of girls who now joined us in the kitchen.  "A bad word?" They were shocked that someone would have such a word in their house. I swear, the way they behaved, you'd think they'd never heard swear words. And maybe they hadn't. "Ooooh."

Precocious Girl continued, her lip curling. "Why is that here?" She slapped her hand over the magnet MathMan brought back from President Obama's Inauguration.

Girlish voices announced their hate to the world.
"I hate Obama! He's ruined this country! My parents voted for McCain!"
"My parents hate Obama!"
"My daddy says he won't live to see a second term."
"Black people voted for Obama because they want a black President!"

I looked at these young faces spewing so much hatred. I mentally fast-forwarded and was searching for a place to live in Chicago and packing our things and moving somewhere where at least the haters are interspersed and not so concentrated.

Precocious Girl spoke again. "I don't know any white people who voted for Obama."

I smiled, "Now you do."

Blink, blink. Her cleverness had left her.

"And I'd appreciate it if you'd all stop talking shit about our President in my house."

There was a collective gasp.

Precocious Girl recovered. "You said a bad word!" I swear the color drained from her face.

I spent wasted the next five minutes explaining the absurdity of her freaking out over my use of the word shit when she'd announced that she hated someone she'd never met and her father had predicted his death.

It's funny what we teach our kids. By funny, I mean inconsistent, contradictory and downright odd. Over the course of the evening, I learned that we teach them it's okay to be disrespectful to adults, to go into other people's houses and act like it's yours, helping yourself to whatever's in the refrigerator and fruit bowl, taking a  pear or an apple, chewing a bite or two and leaving the rest to rot on a side table. 

We teach them they can say anything judgmental as long as they preface it by saying "I don't like to judge but....," We teach them it's okay to say they hate this person or that person or this group or that group, but the words shit and bitch make them freak the fuck out?

A while later, another girl was telling me how she'd seen something disgusting in a Ripley's Believe or Not book.  "What was that?" I asked, amused and expecting something like a two headed calf or that photo of the guy with the fingernails so long they curled. That used to skeeve me out.

She leaned in to share. "Gay people, bisexuals and those transwhatevers. They actually have a parade every year."

How fun would it be to wear a badge that reads bisexual

I leaned it, too. "Why did that disgust you?"

"They're going to hell. Why do they need a parade?"

"I think the question you might want to consider is why does this get your attention. And how does their parade effect you?"

"It doesn't. I mean, I hate to judge, but.."

I cut her off.  "Well, then, save your disgust for disgusting things like injustice and cruelty. And you know, if you hear yourself starting a sentence with 'I hate to judge, but...' it's probably best to stop talking because whatever you're about to say will be some kind of judgment."

I'd had enough of them and I'm sure they'd had enough of me. I counted the minutes until MathMan would get home.

The girls congregated one last time in the dining room for snacks. One of them pointed out that she lived in the house across the street until a couple of years ago when her family moved to the nice neighborhood across the Etowah River. "We still own the house because my daddy says we can't get what the house is worth if we sell it now since," she paused and looked at me. Yes, I was paying attention. Apparently, the lecture about how President Obama hadn't wrecked the economy had gotten around.

She continued. "The people who live there now are renters. You have to keep your eye on them. Daddy wasn't happy that they still have their Christmas lights up."

I glanced at Sophie who rolled her eyes. She's friends with the girl who lives there. 

Interesting, Nice Neighborhood's Daddy said almost the exact same thing when he dropped off his daughter and introduced himself to me for the third time in about that many weeks. Maybe my ponytail threw him, but you've gotta love a guy who notices a small row of unlit clear lights on the eaves of a house at dusk, but can't remember having met you twice before. He even said the same line about having to keep your eye on renters.

Maybe my badge should read Bisexual/Renter.

And then during a discussion about which movie to watch, Sophie was taken to task by one of the girls because she never went to the movies. "I've seen all these," the girl sneered. "My family goes to the movies all the time. Don't you guys ever go?"

When Sophie made a decision that didn't suit Movie Girl, she declared the choice lame and swanned off to the basement trailing a few followers and the whiff of asshole behind her.

Economic snobbery. Racism. Hate. Death. Bad Manners. Remembering to say yes, m'am and no, m'am and going to church twice or three times a week doesn't temper this kind mental poison. In some cases, it seems to enhance it. Kids learn this stuff somewhere.

Right before MathMan got home, Sophie and I were alone in the kitchen. She'd decided she'd teach those girls who went to the basement. The girls who stayed to watch the movie were going to have popsicles.

I understood her motivation, but I couldn't condone it. "Hey, don't be a jerk. If anyone comes upstairs, offer them one. Immediately."

"I will."

"You better. I mean it." A harsh whisper.

"I will." Through gritted teeth.

"Sophie? I'm sorry if I embarrassed you tonight. I wish I'd kept my mouth shut. It's not my place to tell these kids what to think."

She shrugged.

"Really. I'm sorry. I don't want to you to be embarrassed by me."

"I'm not. I get so tired of hearing them say stuff they don't know anything about. I was glad you told them off. I try to sometimes, but they don't listen to me. I know they listened to you." She took the handful of popsicles and left the kitchen.

They may have listened to me, but I doubt they heard me.

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