when your kid comes home from school and tells you that her HISTORY teacher told her during class that if she disagrees with US foreign policy, she should move to another country AND THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD BLOWS OFF.
I promised the Bee I wouldn’t write a letter to the school board about this. I didn’t promise not to blog. Sigh…
The silver lining of this otherwise wretched story is that the Bee just kept standing up to him, and challenging the analysis of 9/11 that he was trying to push on the class. And that she thought that part of living in a democracy was being able to challenge your government to be better.
She also told him that if she could, she’d move to Scandinavia, since they have better social policy than we do. He was like, “sure, if you want to pay all those taxes.”
I told her, “next time, why don’t you suggest that he move to get a teaching job in a low-tax state, if he’s opposed to paying taxes? I’m certainly less interested in paying MY property taxes, if it’s going to his salary.”
When I became a parent, I had been working as an organizer for nearly ten years. At the time the Bee was born, I had a job that involved organizing other working women–many of whom were in transition from welfare to work. I didn’t have a lot of role models of successful women organizers who were also moms–most of my female friends who had kids dropped out of work to be stay at home moms, or left the crazy, workaholic world of organizing to do 9-to-5 gigs, that let them be home at predictable hours.
The direct work circumstances that I had at the time the Bee was born made me think often about the parallels between parenting and work as an organizer–because most of the women I was organizing, at the time, had been parents for longer than I, but had much more sporadic work histories–and much less experience as activists. In many ways, parenting has made me a better organizer–not least because it gave me something to talk about with almost any other adult human.
Now that I’ve got nearly 15 years of parenting-while-organizing experience under my belt, I’ve had a number of conversations with younger organizers–mostly women, some men–about what it’s like to be a parent while trying to change the world. Over the years, I’ve developed some rules of thumb that, I think, pertain to both experiences. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Nobody except you is going to have your kid as their first priority. It’s your job to stand up for the time that you need to spend with him or her. You wouldn’t expect someone else to prioritize your work tasks–you’re the person who is best-equipped to know what you need to do to get your job done. This is the same.
- If you’re trying to change jobs: be clear about your boundaries, but don’t let them limit you. I’ve had interviews where I’ve told potential employers–“I can only travel X amount–if that’s a problem, then I’m not the right fit for this job.” It’s never stopped anyone from hiring me. People appreciate knowing your limits.
- That thing they say on airplanes, about putting the oxygen on you first? is real. No kid deserves a parent who doesn’t take time for self-care–just like “constant campaign” mode kills activists.
- Teaching always goes in two directions–whether you realize it at the time or not.
- Sometimes, the best way to build a relationship is to do the thing the other person thinks is fun or useful. Say yes, more than you say no.
- Use all the technology available to you. I have had a shared google calendar with landisdad since before we were divorced–two parents with crazy work lives have to be able to sync. And lately, I’ve been parenting by text message–which drives me crazy–but with kids who are digital natives, that’s not weird.
- Life has goals & benchmarks, but it’s more like a movement, than a campaign. It does have an end-point, but none of us is hoping for the day after.
- There is beauty in people learning to do things for themselves, even if it’s different than the way you would do it.
From the Potato…
Grace is dead. I am so sad about it. When Hank died, yes i was crying and really upset, but he wasn’t a human cat. He was a cat cat. Grace was a human cat. I miss her.
When I moved out, I told my kids that I wouldn’t live with anyone else while they were still young enough to have to live at home. Both my parents got remarried, after their divorce, to people who are crazy in different ways—and the fact that I had to live with my step-parents, serially, did really bad things to my relationships with my own parents. I’m not at all interested in adding that drama to my world again, this time with my kids in the mix.
To some degree, this makes dating easy for me. I’m not looking for a serious relationship, for something that’s “going somewhere.” I just want some companionship, occasionally, on nights the kids aren’t around. Up till this point, I mostly haven’t dated on the times they stay with me, but that may change as landisdad and I move into more of a 50-50 parenting split.
One of the things about single parenting that I find hard to navigate is the integration of my own dating life with the fact that the Bee has become a teenager. She hasn’t dated anyone yet, but the handwriting is on the wall—it’s only a matter of time before she’ll have a boyfriend.
I remember the horror of my own mother going on dates, just as I was trying to figure that out for myself for the first time. My mom didn’t date very much at all–if she dated anyone besides my stepfather before she got remarried, I certainly never knew about it. Similarly, my dad did not introduce us to anyone he dated until my stepmother.
What that meant for me, as a teen who had a lot of anger, was that I only had one chance to get used to the idea that my parent was with someone new. I have no doubt that some of the bad things that went wrong in my relationships with my own parents were due to bad choices that I made—I’m not going to deny that I was emotionally immature—and it cost us all something.
I haven’t introduced my kids to most of the people that I’ve dated, and when I have, it’s gone okay, particularly with the Potato. I’ve told them that I don’t expect them to treat men I date with anything other than the same respect that they would show any of my friends, and that’s mostly been their reaction. I think it helps that I’ve done it so infrequently—it really has kept them from feeling like it was a thing they were going to have to do over and over again, on both their best and their worst days.
But in some ways, I think the choices I’ve made about dating may just be the thing that my kids think, “I’ll never do that, if I get divorced!”
I think it’s hard to have an honest conversation with them about the things I’m looking for in a relationship, versus the things I hope for them when they start dating, because there is so much “ick” factor when kids think about their parents having sex.
So since my last post, the Potato has had two more incidents at the after-school program, and landisdad and I have decided to pull him out of it.
Which means that, at least until the end of the year, I’ll be working from the old house a couple of afternoons a week. This will be coupled with taking the Potato with me to work meetings or my apartment, and occasionally relying on my brother’s in-laws for help as well.
What really, really sucks is that the Bee is seeing it as a major loss for her.
A major loss of the independence that she’s gained this year, since she no longer gets to be by herself in the house for a couple of hours in the afternoon. And a major loss in life equity, since of course she never liked the after-school program either, and the fact that the Potato gets to just quit means that we love him more than we do her.
When I moved from elementary to middle school, I changed best friends. The best friend that I had in elementary school was going to Catholic school for middle school, and despite the fact that we lived across the street from each other, our lack of social time at school was enough to break us up.
The best friend that I had for most of middle school, Kitty, was the youngest child of much older parents. She had several older brothers and sisters, but they were all grown and out of the house, and I think that her parents were very tired and had pretty much given up on parenting. She had the entire second floor of their house to herself—her mother couldn’t climb stairs, and her dad just didn’t seem interested in going up there.
She had great clothes—Jordache jeans that I was highly envious of, because my mom would never buy them. She was thin and pretty, and had the kind of early-adolescent body that could stop traffic. I slept over at her house all the time, and we would sneak out after her parents were asleep and guys would come by to talk to her—high school boys with cars, and some guys who were even older. I saw her do coke when we were both something like 12, which is also when she started having sex.
I was too much of a goody-goody then to do anything like that, but I went along with her because I was worried that something would happen. And I’m not going to lie—I thought maybe if I hung out with her, then some cute high school boy would notice me, too.
We drifted apart in eighth grade, and then she ended up going to the Vo-Tech, while I went to the regular high school. I had a new crowd of friends who were geeky theater people like me, and I didn’t see her much any more—even though she lived around the corner. I lost touch with her totally when I moved in with my dad, three towns away.
Now, I’m going to flash forward thirty years.
Right after spring break ended, two new girls joined the Bee’s class. We heard a fair amount about both of them from the Bee for a while, and then it became clear that the Bee was becoming very friendly with the Artiste. She talked about how much she liked this new girl’s fashion sense, and how she was really standing out in the class.
I didn’t notice much about her at the time, except for the fact that she had a pink wash in her hair—but hey, who doesn’t dye their hair pink once in a while.
At graduation, the Artiste showed up looking like she had been dressed by Lady Gaga. She was wearing five-inch stilettos and a dress that was cut waaaaay down in front–which is a kind of strange look on an undeveloped eleven-year-old. Landisdad commented that it looked like she was going clubbing.
Later that day, I chaperoned the pool party, and I noticed (because she was wearing a bikini) that she has a pierced belly button. WTF? I said something to the Bee about it being the kind of thing I expect to see on older girls, and then kind of dropped it (though I did mention it to landisdad).
We ran into the Artiste at the pool again last weekend, and she and the Bee were hanging out with the Bee’s best friend, the Peony. They all splashed around and had the kind of conversations that girls going into middle school have. Or so I thought. Until at lunch the next day, the Bee told us that the Artiste is going to get a tattoo next year.
I said something like, “she can’t get a tattoo, she’s not old enough.” And the Bee said, “no, the tattoo place already thinks she’s fourteen, because her mom told her to lie to them, so next year they’ll think she’s fifteen and she can get a tattoo.” Landisdad and I looked at each other in horror and I said, “well, I don’t want to say anything bad about the Artiste’s mom, since I’ve never even met her, but I think that it’s not a great idea for a parent to tell their kid to lie so that they can break the law.” Landisdad added, “we think it’s okay to break the law in some circumstances—like when it’s being unfairly applied to one group of people—but you should be willing to take the punishment for breaking the law, and admit to what you’re doing—not just break a law you don’t like for your own personal advantage.”
The Bee agreed, and said, “I know, and she wants to get a tongue piercing too! And did you know some people get penis piercings?”
I put my poker face on, and said, “yes, I do know that,” and did not add, “and by the way, I’m pretty sure I was at least 21 before I ever heard of that.”
I may not know the Artiste’s mother, but I fucking hate her now, and the Bee is never, ever going to sleep over there.
I had to call landisdad as I was driving home tonight (hands free! honest!). After we talked for a minute, he said, “hold on, the Bee wants to talk to you.”
She had the following updates, and she couldn’t wait for me to get home to tell me:
1) that she had fallen while scootering, and scraped her knees so badly that, “I couldn’t walk, Mom!”
2) a boy in her class, who fell during gym last week, apparently broke his foot, and will be in a cast and on crutches for the rest of the school year
3) a girl in her class got hit by a car! (this was a statement made by another girl in class, and does not seem to have been confirmed by any teacher, so I’m not exactly sure what the deal is)
4) and finally, a different boy in her class brought a pocket knife to school, and is therefore suspended.
I know Teacher Appreciation week is over and all, but I might bring that teacher coffee or something…
So we’re still all here. It’s been a rough week, one that contained not one but two therapy sessions (one with the Bee, one with just me and landisdad). We’ve come up with some new rules in our house, and we’re hoping that it will make a difference.
April is destined to be fairly sucky, since I have an extended business trip and then the Bee has tech week for her play, which will make her crazy.
Thanks for all your good wishes, folks. We’re muddling through this thing. Y’know, life.
I’m starting to wonder if our family will ever be happy. Despite the fact that we made some progress with the Bee’s anger issues earlier in the year, there’s been major slippage backwards in the last few months. The real problem is that the Bee defaults to anger whenever she feels any negative emotion—embarrassment, shame, disappointment, depression, and of course actual anger—they all get manifested in rage. And lately, that rage has been directed at her brother, as well as at landisdad and me.
I’m nearly at the point of moving out of our house, and taking the Bee with me, for at least a year. I’m filled with despair about it, and I don’t think that word is strong enough to describe how landisdad feels. It’s gutting, to fight with your kid every single day.
I never thought I would be at this point in my life as a parent.
I told the Bee yesterday, during a marathon of crazy parenting, that we will have plenty of things to fight about in coming years—whether she gets to wear make-up to school, how late she will be able to stay out with her friends, when she can start dating—but I can’t fight with her every moment of every day about the way she treats other people.
I will never give up on that kid. I am committed to helping her to grow, to helping her learn how to manage her bad feelings, to help her express things by doing something other than lashing out at other people. But I can’t say I’m enjoying this part of being her mom, either.
I feel like I’ve been telling this story in bits & pieces on various blogs’ comments lately, and it struck me this morning, “Hey, I could write my own post about it!”
The Bee, as my regular readers know, is in fifth grade. As in, still in elementary school. As in, not really that mature or responsible, really (I’m not saying she’s irresponsible for her age–but her age is not known for being extraordinarily forward-thinking).
And yet, of the 18 kids in her class. 15 have cell phones.
If you guessed that one of the three kids with no phone is my kid, you’d be right. You can imagine how popular this makes me, as a parent. The Bee is constantly agitating for a phone of her own. And not just any phone—of course, she wants one that has a texting plan, and internet access, and the ability to watch YouTube, and play games. Like everyone these days, she basically wants a handheld computer.
In fact, I often wonder if anyone in her class ever uses the phone as a phone, since the only uses any of her friends seem to talk about are texting and IMing.
Last weekend, the Peony’s* mom called to talk to me about some concerns she was having about some texts the Peony has been getting from one of the other girls in their class. It seems that this third girl has been sending bullying text messages to the Peony. She asked me if the Bee had said anything about it to me, and I told her that she hadn’t, but I would see if I could get anything out of her about it.
The Bee and I went out to run some errands that afternoon, and I asked her if there was anything going on between the Peony and anyone else in the class. The Bee went off on a half-hour long tirade about the things that were happening between the two girls, and about how she felt caught in the middle. She also started to complain to me that the Peony had been saying things to her every day about how she wished the Bee would get a phone, and how the Peony was telling her that she wasn’t sure they could be friends in middle school, if she didn’t have a phone on the first day, “because we wouldn’t be able to be in touch.”
I’m sure that 90% of the reason that the Peony has been asking the Bee when she’s going to get a phone is that she’s tired of not being able to text her best friend, and instead has to text her frenemy. I also think that if the damn parents of everyone in the Bee’s class—including the Peony’s mom— had refused to get their kids cell phones, this keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ would not be hitting my kid so hard (or at least it would be focused on something like who had the good jeans). I also realize that a single mom like the Peony’s may feel differently about the need to be able to reach her kid when they are apart.
But there is a big difference between giving your kid a phone so you can reach them in an emergency, and unleashing your kid with a technology that the kid doesn’t really understand, and isn’t mature enough to deal with, in many circumstances.
I’m often struck by how many people who are not at all tech-savvy give their kid technology without teaching them how to be responsible users of it. We’ve had lots of conversations with the Bee about internet privacy, and I’m still not prepared to have her create a Facebook or MySpace account. She’s 10. She’ll be posting something like, “I hate my brother” every day, and it will live on the internet forever.
But it’s hard to be the hard-liner, when so many other parents are permissive.
*the Peony is the nom-de-blog of the Bee’s best friend, for irregular readers