For weeks now my kids have been asking me what I want for Christmas. And I have said the thing that I am supposed to say, that I always say – I don’t need anything. I just want all of my children to be happy and healthy. It’s true. I don’t need anything. And I do want my children to be happy and healthy. But they are good children, so no matter how often I say that I really don’t need anything, they will pool their money and buy me a new bathrobe or nightgown, or a maybe well-intentioned kitchen gadget. And I’ll be grateful because I know they are buying me presents because they love me and want to show me that they care.
But here’s the thing. I’m lying. I don’t just want healthy happy kids. Sure that’s the most important thing, but there are a few things that I desperately want. I want ’em real bad. Perhaps it’s not too late to give my family my real Christmas list…
I want everyone to lick or wipe the peanut butter off the spoon before dropping it in the sink. Better yet, lick it off and drop it in the dishwasher.
I want to never hear the words. SHOTGUN! again.
I want to never open the cabinet and find a box with approximately two tablespoons of cereal left in it.
I want a vehicle free of dead french fries and straw wrappers.
I want all the socks in whole world (or at least in my house) to find and keep their forever mate.
I want counter tops free from crumbs.
I want well-fed dogs and chickens and livestock. And I want to eliminate the phrase Did you feed the…. from my vocabulary.
I want to stop pretending that the little flecks of green in the pasta are seasonings. It’s spinach, ya’ll. Okay. It’s spinach. It has always been spinach.
I want to sit down with my coffee or my computer or my book for more than five minutes at time before someone says, “Hey Mamma! Will you…”
I want to always be able to find a pen. And my scissors. And the duck tape. Seriously. Who keeps running off with the duck tape?
I want to stop repeating myself.
I want to stop repeating myself.
I want a TV show that comes on during primetime that I can watch with my whole family and that does not involve wildlife or people wearing cammo – and that will not be interrupted by commercials for tampons, Viagra, or Victoria’s Secret.
I want to learn how to use the television remote control, and I want the kids to forget how to use the television remote control.
I want, just now and then, to arrive at church with a relaxed, well-dressed family at least 15 minutes early.
I want to pray more as a family.
I want to play more as a family.
I want to sit down to dinner more often.
I want to cook from scratch, and I want someone else to clean the kitchen.
I want more nights at home with my family and fewer nights all going in different directions.
I want to slow down time.
Obviously, some of the things on my list are within my family’s power to give me and some are not. But in the end, I know I will get bathrobe or a nightgown or a kitchen gadget. And that’s okay. Because even though whatever I get might not come with a life-time supply of spotless kitchens or perfectly matched socks, it will come with love. And I really could use a new bathrobe.
…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).
Recently a blog post has been floating around on my Facebook newsfeed. It was written by the mother of three teenage boys, and it serves as a warning to teenage girls who post scantily-clad photos of themselves on social media. You go, Mom of boys! I agree with her family’s practice of looking at their boys’ social media, and I agree with everything this woman had to say. Yet, I felt like there was something missing from the conversation. There is often something missing from conversations about purity and modesty. That something is boys. Teenage girls get lots of admonitions, as well they should, to be modest, to not tempt boys with alluring photos and skimpy outfits. But I have yet to come across a viral blog post that looks at the responsibility of boys in the whole purity equation. So, here goes….
Girls don’t wear enough clothes. I’m sorry about that, but it is a sad fact of our modern culture. Of course I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. If you have ever left you house or turned on the television you know this. In fact, if you have been to a high school girls’ volleyball game or sporting even where there were cheerleaders you know this. Even if every girl who ever comes across your social media is wearing a turtle neck sweater and extra large sweat pants, you know this.
We have considered making our daughters wear swimsuits like this…
Or cheerleading uniforms like this…
And we are particularly fond of this volleyball uniform…
But we have decided we’d rather our girls not run away from home.
My point is this. It is great if your family monitors your social media. But it’s not enough. When you walk through the mall or stand in the checkout line at the grocery store, you are exposed to advertisements and magazine covers that would have been Playboy centerfolds in your grandfather’s generation. Soft porn is considered appropriate entertainment for a Superbowl halftime show. Even what girls wear to play a school-sanctioned sport is a bit iffy. YOU have to be responsible for your own purity – of deed and of mind. It can’t be all up to the girls to draw lines and keep it covered.
And it won’t be easy. Everyday you are exposed to dozens of immodest images real and digital. You have to work harder than any generation before you to shield your eyes and keep your mind clean. It’s not fair, but it’s just the way it is. Work hard. Be careful what movies you watch, magazines you read, and Internet sites you visit. Don’t think you can linger gleefully of Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and then mock, ridicule, or look down on a girl who posts a questionable selfie.
Don’t look for a girl who is hot. But get to know girls who are beautiful – inside and out- and make ALL girls feel like they are worthy of kindness and attention, no matter what size jeans they wear. And let’s stop pretending that the modesty issue is just a girl problem. Guys need to be modest in action and thought if they expect girls to be modest in dress. I know it’s tough on guys to think and do the right thing with so many scantily-clad girls running around, but as soon as our culture starts showing girls that they are so much more than objects, I think we will see a lot fewer half-naked Instagram posts.
Be a guy who helps create a culture of respect for women. If you will, and if more girls will start respecting themselves enough to NOT post seductive photos, then maybe parents won’t have to spend their spare time monitoring social media – but we still will, just in case.