…at least that’s what my Charming Chet’s teacher told me after he received a trip to the principal’s office, detention, a writing assignment on the dangers of roughhousing and a three day ban from playing football on the playground. All of this for accidentally running into another boy during a game of Monkey in the Middle. To be fair, the other boy was standing still. And because they had been running after the same ball, his back was turned to Charming Chet, so the poor kid never saw him coming. And the poor kid did end up with a goose egg on is forehead. But in Charming Chet’s defense, they were playing Monkey in the Middle, which is by nature a rough game. And it was an accident.
When I questioned the teacher about the harshness of Chet’s punishment, she explained that, though it was an accident, they were playing too rough and Chet needs to learn to reign it in a bit. To which she added, “Those farm kids have got it going on.” This, I assume, was her euphemistic way of telling me that Charming Chet is rougher and tougher than most of the boys he plays with. Fair enough. Is that because he has grown up on a farm? Maybe.
It does take a certain toughness to wring a chicken’s neck when it has been injured beyond recovery. And it takes a certain toughness to tattoo a baby goat.
It definitely takes a certain toughness to approach a hive full of hungry bees protected by nothing more than a five gallon paint strainer.
And it absolutely takes toughness to do this…
Of course, it’s not just farming that has made Charming Chet the bulldozer that he is. When he was about two or three, his siblings and I would play a game with him called Newborn Baby Wrestler. It went something like this. I would sit on one end of the couch and his sisters and brother would sit on the other. Chet would crawl up under my sweatshirt so that I looked enormously pregnant. I would then say to the other children, “The new baby is about to be born. I do hope it’s a boy who likes to wrestle and snuggle.” With that, Chet would pop out and leap across the couch to wrestle his siblings. As soon as he had them begging for mercy, he would leap back into my arms to snuggle, and the other kids would join us for a big mommy/kiddos snuggle-fest. I’m not sure how this strange game that mixed violence with cuddling developed, but all the kids loved it, and we played it over and over.
So, yes. Charming Chet might be a bit rougher and tougher than the average nine year old. And yes, some of that might be because he was raised on a farm and with a bunch of rowdy siblings (his older brother, Charming Jack, being the rowdiest). But it is also because, while we did not set out to “make a man out of him,” we do let him be a boy. And boys are rough. Of course he should know when and where he can be rough, but sadly those times and places when a boy can just be a boy are becoming difficult to find. Recesses have been shortened and sanitized. And sports have been organized and regulated. Gone are the days of long recess games of Red Rover or the unfortunately named, yet fun, game of KILL!. No, the playground should not be a free-for-all of testosterone mayhem, but neither should kids have to tiptoe around in fear of accidentally running into a playmate and being marched into the principal’s office.
It might not sound like it, but I really am over it now. I talked to Chet’s teacher, Mrs. Y. She’s an amazing teacher, and he loves being in her class. I know without a doubt that she cares about him. I’m sure she was just following the guidelines set forth by the school. But the whole incident got me thinking, are we really doing our kids any favors by turning them into Generation Cupcake?
Don’t misunderstand. I do not think it is my job to teach my children that the world is a rough place. I know the world will teach them that. It’s my job to give them a safe place of unconditional love and acceptance, so that when the world does teach them those painful lessons, they know they have someplace to go for healing and comfort. We attachment parented our children. That means we rarely let our babies cry, if we could help it. We opted for gentle discipline (mostly). We practiced co-sleeping (and I can assure you they all outgrew it). And as I’ve said before, we weaned very slowly. Obviously, I’m not the kind of mom who tries to toughen up her kids.
Oh! And I despise it when people say, “Well, when I was a kid…” to justify bad parenting or meanness. When I was a kid mothers smoked and drank while they were pregnant (not mine of course). When I was a kid, we didn’t buckle up. We just rolled around precariously in the back seat. Fortunately, our mothers bravely sacrificed their own arms to keep us safe.
When I was a kid, Twinkies were considered an appropriate daily snack (although not by mother, who if you haven’t guessed by now, reads all my blog posts).
And when I was a kid people dressed like this…
And even this…
So you see, not all things past were better. But when it comes to letting kids be kids, I think maybe our parents and grandparents had it (mostly) right. Kids play rough. Kids get hurt. As long as no one loses an eye, we’re all good.
But as all wise mothers do, I know I must choose my battle. That is why I have no intention of fighting Chet’s punishment or of going up to the school to lobby for rowdy recess games. I’m just glad my kids have a bunch of animals, a few acres, some rough and tumble siblings, and some crazy cousins to help them experience all of the wonderful wildness of childhood!
Since posting this, I came across this quote for an article in the New York Times about the benefits of recess…
Young rats denied opportunities for rough-and-tumble play develop numerous social problems in adulthood. They fail to recognize social cues and the nuances of rat hierarchy; they aren’t able to mate. By the same token, people who play as children “learn to handle life in a much more resilient and vital way,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, the author of the new book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul” (Avery).