unhappy-little-boy

“Hanging on, You’re all that’s left to hold on to.”

-U2, Red Hill Mining Town

I hit my son.

Something I never thought I would do. I had never been hit as a child. Not spanked. Not “popped.” Nothing. My mom was able to raise three kids without laying a hand on any of us.

But I hit my son. I did it out of frustration and helplessness. And yes, anger.

My oldest, my son, was strong-willed. Feisty. Spirited. All the positive spin-words we could think of to describe his behavior and temperament. He was also a beautiful, sweet boy who filled my heart with more love and joy than I ever thought possible.

But he was not an easy kid. He tried me every day. From the age of two until he was about five years old.

He would throw fits in restaurants and have me dragging him out the door before the food had even arrived.

He would wake up from naps and scream and cry for over an hour. It was more than a tantrum, he was unreachable, enraged. I would carefully step around his flailing body to carry books and toys out of his room so that he wouldn’t throw them or hurt himself with them. I would stand outside his door with tears burning my eyes, the contents of his room lined up in the hallway, waiting for it to pass. I even recorded these fits of rage in case I needed to show them do his Pediatrician.

One day when he was three years old, he flipped out after we left a play date. He screamed and kicked my seat continuously as I was driving. I tried calming him down. I tried turning up the radio to drown out his screams. At one point I pulled over and parked on a side street. I felt like I was going to lose it. He screamed and kicked while I leaned my forehead on the steering wheel and took deep breaths. I sat there for a few minutes until the person who lived in a nearby house came out on their front porch to see what was wrong. They had heard his screaming from inside their house and were understandably concerned. I gave a small wave to acknowledge them and slowly drove away. He screamed the whole way home.

Often, in order to leave a park or a play date, I would have to hoist him up like a giant sack of potatoes, one arm clamped over his arms with my other arm clamped over his legs. He would kick and scream and hit. I would wrestle him to the car, re-adjusting and trying to keep my grip, all while getting hit and kicked.  He was almost stronger than me. He was a big kid, at four he was the size of most six year olds.

Most days I felt beaten down and exhausted. I dreaded him waking up from his naps and the impending tantrum. I worried about what was wrong with him. I worried about the issues that may be lurking. Anger issues. Psychological problems. I worried about when he would be too big for me to wrestle into the car. What would I do then?

I cried on the phone to my mom on many afternoons. I asked her how to get him to respect me. I needed words of wisdom and some secret mommy tip that would help me, that would give me some control over my son. All she had were words of support. Encouragement that I was doing everything right. Assurances that if I kept doing everything right that he would respect me and that I wouldn’t always have to wrestle him into the car. I wanted to believe her, but I wasn’t sure.

Then one day I hit him. I “popped” him on the leg. He was bucking like a bronco refusing to let me strap him into his carseat. I spent the better part of 15 minutes trying to strap him in. Nothing was working. Exhausted and sweaty, I lost it and I hit his thigh and yelled at him in my ugliest voice. I’m sure my “pop” stung. I’m sure my words cut.

He paused briefly in shock and I watched his face change from defiance to sorrow. I saw his eyes speak of betrayal and shock. I knew I hadn’t physically harmed him. I knew the sting of my slap was momentary. But I had hurt him nonetheless. He started crying tears of sadness. I felt indescribably horrible.

I numbly climbed into the front seat to buckle in and drive. I felt sick to my stomach. I was appalled with myself. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I knew I did what many parents would have done. But it didn’t matter. The tears being shed in hurt and defeat from the backseat were all the incrimination I needed.

This isn’t what I had wanted. This is not how I wanted to parent. It didn’t matter what was “normal” or “acceptable.” It didn’t feel right to me. At all. I didn’t want my son to behave or listen because he feared he would get hit or “popped.” I wanted him to do it because it was right. Because I’m his mother and he needed to listen to me.

I don’t want to rule with an iron fist. I don’t want to control my kids. I don’t want them to fear me.

I don’t want them to ever feel shame.

No good has ever come from shame.

I want to guide my kids. Teach them. I want them to learn self-control. Not control at the hands of a parent.

My son is 13 years old now. He’s a good kid. No, he’s a great kid. He makes mistakes. But he studies hard. He works hard. He’s considerate and respectful. He has not once, in 11 years of schooling, had a behavior issue. I’ve had other parents tell me that they hope their young boys turn out like him. He has a happy, easy-going nature and tons of friends who love him.

I know I’m lucky.

I’ve forgotten how scary and trying those early years were. As I write this, I’m so grateful there wasn’t a bigger issue lurking behind those screams and tantrums. Now, all these years later, I have an idea of what was causing his behavior. He was diagnosed with pretty bad allergies. Allergies that kept him stuffy and miserable year round. He also had some speech delays early on a learning disability that was stymying his communication. Once we started him on allergy shots and speech therapy and specialized tutoring, his behavior problems disappeared. Dramatically.

Knowing what I know now, I would be riddled with guilt if corporal punishment had been  part of our parenting.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it would have changed him. Would he be different? Would he be the sweet boy with the easy smile? Would he be the boy who carries himself with confidence?

I don’t know. I will never know. But I am glad I didn’t risk who he was, who he is.

Knowing what I know now, I’m grateful. Parenting is hard. Every kid is different. Different challenges. Different issues. Who’s to say the right way to handle each situation. But knowing what I know now, I’m not glad that I hit my son. But I am glad that was only once.

ebola

“You feelin’ alright

I’m not feelin’ too good myself”

-Joe Cocker, Feelin’ Alright

I don’t want to be an alarmist. And there’s already enough hysteria floating around like airborne microbes through a misting fan. But you guys- it was bad. Fever. Puking. Other stuff that polite southern women don’t talk about.

Four out of five Kelly’s were sick. No, it wasn’t Ebola. But I feel like I kind of understand it, from both ends. And no, I’m not being coy, I mean I was both patient and nurse. Because I’m a mom.

Patient # 1: It all started with the little one. So innocent and cute. She didn’t understand what was happening. She peppered me with questions in between yakking. She didn’t understand that correct protocol does not involve breathing directly into my face after emptying the contents of her stomach all over the bed.

Patient # 2: My son. Thirteen years old. Vibrant, strong boy. Which means that he gives new meaning to the word “projectile” as the contents of that night’s dinner make a second appearance. The victim: his bedroom rug. This is when things get really ugly. This is when you realize you failed at containing the virus. This is when it’s time to get serious. Luckily for you, I’ve been through it and I’ve come out on the other side to help you. Hopefully you won’t be affected or infected, but in case you are, take heed.

  • First, you must maintain composure. As you turn for help and see your husband’s retreating back, you realize you’re in this alone. You’ll want to panic. But you can’t. This is it. This is no time to lose your shizzm. The faster you act the better. Don’t allow time to think or smell. Paper towels and trash bags are your friend. Do the best you can with these tools. You will likely realize that you have held your breath and squealed and sympathy-vomited through this stage of cleanup only to realize you’ve barely scratched the barf covered surface. Time to improvise. Grab the oldest towels you can and cover that rank. If you can’t see it it’s not there. Truth.
  • Second, employ those killers of the environment, the plastic grocery bag. Yes, you feel guilty that you have an entire closet in your laundry room stuffed with them. You tried reusable grocery bags and you really liked them, but your husband “accidentally” threw them out and you’ve been too lazy to buy more. Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. Dealing with children who’ve suddenly turned into Linda Blair from The Exorcist. So yeah, those pesky little bags you’ve been hoarding can now be “recycled.” Line the trash can that you put by your kid’s bed with a triple layer of these. Just like lining a roasting pan with foil. Clean up will be easy.

Except it’s not. Your methods are necessary but clean up will be treacherous at best. The worst part is the nausea you feel just from seeing and smelling things that can’t be unseen or un.. er… not smelled. But you must forge ahead. The rest of the family is counting on you to keep them safe. Especially your husband who’s snoring from the bedroom. It’s time to disinfect.

  • Before this step you must protect yourself. You have to keep yourself well or things will really fall apart. You know, take oxygen before you assist fellow passengers. I don’t make these things up. You’ll want a face mask. Surely you have these on hand for the impending pandemics that crop up yearly, right? Good. You’ll need rubber or latex gloves. And an old shirt – or your husband’s favorite t shirt – whatever’s handy. If wretching is still in progress (how much did those kids eat today?) you may want a hat or scarf to cover your hair.
  • Now you will need a bucket and bleach. You will need to coat all door handles, light switches, faucets, toilet handles. All of it. Don’t listen to that crap about 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water. You want to show this virus who’s boss, right? We ain’t playin’ around. So you go halfsies. Your eyes will burn and your house will smell like  an indoor kiddie pool with poor ventilation, but that’s ok. The bonus here is that your nose will be incapable of smelling the foul smells that emanate from those towels on your son’s carpet.
  • The next step is laundry. While still suited up in your homemade hazmat suit, grab the comforter your son managed to soil as well as any washcloths and towels that may have been contaminated. But NOT the towels on the floor! DO NOT move those! You will want to shove as many of the offending linens into your washer as humanly possible. Put in extra soap. Lots of it. Wash on highest heat, sanitary setting. Side note: anything that needs rinsing before putting in the washer needs to be thrown out. I don’t care if it’s wasteful. There’s nothing that is so special that can’t be replaced. Seriously, I don’t care if your grandmother’s wedding dress got caught in the cross fire, there are limits to what one should be expected to do. Throw that shizzle away.
  • Sometimes your methods are met with a little hiccup. A little stumble if you will. In my case it was water seeping from under the washing machine. It’s ok. Freaking out about what curse has been placed upon your pure heart is not going to help. Take a deep breath. Backup plans are in place for such breaches. Take all remaining contaminated laundry that has not been stuffed into your washing machine like a Paula Deen pork chop and dump it on to the floor of your garage. It is out of the house, technically, which is the important thing. Until the washing machine gets fixed, your family can practice holding their breath as they dash through the garage to the car. This is a healthy exercise that will only save them from possible drowning one day.

Congratulate yourself on a sanitized and clean environment in which your family can safely ride out this harrowing ordeal. Rest easy as you drift off to sleep with the comfort that you’ve protected the people you love with your knowledge and fortitude in the face of utter grossness. Drift off to sleep with the last few precious hours left before daylight.

Except you can’t. Because you realize that the nausea you’d been feeling wasn’t imaginary. You’ve been infected. As you race to the bathroom to take your turn at the hurling olympics, grab a towel. That tile’s cold and you’ll be laying on it until this passes.

Eventually the fever wears off and the nausea calms to a quiet roar. You emerge from your oddly comforting enclave curled up next to the toilet, to realize that no one realized you were gone. As your son recovers from the worst of it upstairs, your five year old seems remarkably well and full of all kinds of fun energy. The family went about their business in the few hours since you cleaned and painstakingly disinfected. You try not to be irritated that it looks like John Belushi just hosted a toga party in your kitchen. Because look at them. Healthy. Blissfully unaware. This is why you do it. Then you see your husband. He’s looking a little green…

Just turn around and go back to bed. You’ve done your part. It’s every man and child for himself now.

Do stomach bugs freak you out? Have you been traumatized by cleaning up your kid’s puke? What are your tips for surviving an outbreak?

IMG_6061 

“You are the most beautiful thing, I’ve ever seen. You shine just like sunlight rays on a winter snow.

I just had to tell you so. 

Your eyes sparkle as the sun, like the moon they glow. Your smile could light the world on fire, or did you know? 

Your mind’s full of everything that I wanna know,

I just had to let you know.

You’re my butterfly… Fly High… Fly Fly Fly…”

-Lenny Kravits, Butterfly

I get nostalgic and weepy on my kids’ birthdays. I remember every stage of labor…  This time, 11 years ago, my water broke. I watch the clock and think about that day. I drive my kids nuts with my reminiscing. Because I don’t say these things in my head. I say them out loud. To my kids. All day. Every year. They don’t love it.

But this is what moms do, right? We relive moments and cling to our babies at the very moment that we should be letting them go. Because my baby is actually not a baby. She’s 11 years old as of yesterday.

And she’s almost taller than I am.

So I guess I can’t call her a baby anymore. (Though I will. I always will. But that one I’ll do silently in my head.) The little girl who’s turning into a young woman in front of my very eyes. In spite of my holding on for dear life, she’s growing up.

***

She was born an old soul. We could just tell. They laid her on the scale and she stared silently into my husband’s eyes. He still gets emotional if he talks about that moment. The nurse swaddled her up and brought her to me. I wiped my eyes of the tears that were a combination of joy and pain. I held her and started to meet her. Examining her tiny hands, her sweet lips, her intense eyes. They gazed at me in studied  concentration. Searching my eyes. Holding my gaze. She was meeting me. She was checking me out.

She rarely cried. She was a content baby, easy to please. She would wake up in the morning and just hang out in her crib until I would hear her cooing and gurgling over the baby monitor. Her older brother would clamor into her room with me and greet her with his marble mouthed “Hello sunshine.”

I loved her with everything I had. But I didn’t feel like I knew her. She was a mystery to me. I would stare at her, watching her, trying to figure out what was going on inside her head. I had a sense that there was more going on than was obvious to the rest of us. I spent those first few months nursing her, playing with her, singing her songs. Trying desperately to understand her.

This may sound a little crazy. But I need to know my kids. I need to understand them. I knew how my son’s brain worked. I just knew him from the moment he was born. I was struggling with the fact that it didn’t come as easy with my daughter.

At three months old she got sick. It started as a cold and developed into something worse. I couldn’t sleep because I was worried. Something didn’t seem right. She was still smiling, still happy, but her breathing seem labored. One afternoon I watched as her breathing became more raspy. “She’s wheezing!” I yelled to my husband. I packed her in the car and headed to the pediatrician’s office. My heart was starting to race and I was on the verge of panicking. I drove, watching her in the rearview mirror. She looked blue to me. Her breathing was getting worse. Much worse. I made a sharp u-turn and pulled into an Urgent Care.

I ran into the building clutching her baby carrier “I need help, I don’t think my baby’s breathing.” The receptionist stood up to peer over her counter and took one look at my daughter and called the nurses to come get her. As the nurses whisked her into the examining room, I followed in a state of disbelief. I was worried, that’s why I’d brought her here after all. But seeing the concerned look on the nurse’s faces was freaking me out even more. As the doctor whipped past me to assess her, I pulled on his sleeve. “Is she going to be ok? Is my baby going to be ok?”

Her oxygen levels were low but not dangerously so. They wanted to send us to the hospital for chest X-rays and a flu test. They wanted her to stay overnight and be monitored. They offered to have an ambulance transport us but I told them I would drive. They admitted that the ambulance was more for me. They were worried that I was too upset to drive.

X-Rays, tubes down her nose to extract fluid, blood taken. My calm, serene baby was now screaming and flailing, fighting to break free. I held her arms by her head and whispered words of comfort to her.

Soon we were in our hospital room, waiting on a diagnosis. All of the scary tests came back negative. The diagnosis was R.S.V. A respiratory infection. She would be ok. The told me she’d need breathing treatments with a nebulizer. OK. That we could do. They told me that each time she got a cold we would likely have to do the treatments. OK. They said it was not serious and she would outgrow it. Thank god. Relief flooded me.

The doctor and nurse left us to rest. I finally let myself relax a little. I started to come down off of high alert. I was breathing again after holding my breath for hours. I felt the fear start to drain out of me, exhaustion taking up residence where adrenaline had been.

As I was unpacking the diaper bag I heard a noise. I looked up and my daughter was staring at me. Looking me steadily in the eyes, she was struggling to form words. I could hear her little voice, for the first time. Beyond the coos and the gurgles. I could hear her experiment with sounds as she rolled her tongue around and moved her lips. She was trying to talk. She had a look of amusement in her eyes. My three month old baby stared at me and babbled for 10 minutes.

I started to laugh. I walked over to her and caressed her head with both hands as she continued to stare at me and babble. I was laughing and crying with relief. I was weak with gratitude. I responded to her through salty tears. Urging her voice and kissing her forehead. I felt like we had been through a battle together. Just the two of us. We had just experienced some scary moments. And we came through it together.

I cried and laughed. I felt different. All of the questions, all of the searching for the last three months, trying to figure out my daughter. None of that mattered. I knew that she was a part of me. She had a hold on my heart and that was unbreakable. I didn’t need to understand everything about her in that moment. I just needed to know that she was ok. I needed her to know that I would stop searching and would just be. I would let her be and grow into whomever she was supposed to be. I was ok not knowing how that was going to play out. All that mattered was that she was ok and that we would go through the journey together.

***

My daughter just turned 11 yesterday. I’m still trying to figure her out. She’s still a little bit of a mystery to me. I have to be patient with that. She’s brilliant and beautiful and funny and creative. She’s so much more than I ever imagined her being. She’s who I want to be when I grow up. She’s her own person and she doesn’t need me to “get it.” She just needs me to love her. To support her. To be there to guide her when she needs it. And to back off when she doesn’t need it. And to be patient. To be patient with the fact that I’m still figuring her out. She knows that. She watches me. And every once in a while I get that intense soul gazing stare. When I “get her,” when I understand something about her, she gives me that look. It’s her way of saying thank you. It’s her, knowing that I understand one more piece of her that I didn’t get before.

I’m ok with not knowing everything about how her mind works. I don’t think I’m supposed to. I’m just walking through life with her – now just one step behind – letting her make her own way. But I’m watching. Closely. I’m still studying and still trying to figure her out. Only now with more patience. With a little more understanding than yesterday. Some things you have to wait for. Some things, often the best things, you have to wait for. I’ll be waiting and watching and guiding. And I’ll never stop.

Happy birthday to my artist, to my old soul, my pajama pant wearing, book devouring daughter. My “I’m not a princess, I’m an artist”, “I don’t have time to brush my hair”, my laugh at any thing with the word “balls”, dry humored,  crazy girl. My beautiful spirit, my sweet girl, my baby. I love you.

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unknown, via Twitter

“The police in New York City
They chased a boy right through the park
And in a case of mistaken identity
The put a bullet through his heart
Heart breakers with your forty four, I wanna tear your world apart”

-The Rolling Stones, Heartbreaker

Do you worry about what others think of you? I know I do. I worry about it too much. My worries are there because I want people to like me. But imagine if simply being you made others uncomfortable. Imagine if walking around in your skin caused fear. What if upon seeing you a person’s eyes enlarged, they backed away, they avoided eye contact or even turned and walked the other way.

Last summer I read a post by Questlove (Drummer of the Roots) on the Huffington Post blog. He wrote about how he has to worry, all the time -everywhere he goes, about what others think of him. Of how they may react to his appearance. I cried quietly as I read it. He detailed living his life, walking around trying to not be imposing. He described what it’s like to put fear in people simply by looking the way you look…

“All the time I’m in scenarios in which primitive, exotic-looking me (6’2″, 300 pounds, uncivilized afro for starters) finds himself in places that people that look like me aren’t normally found. I mean, what can I do? I have to be somewhere on Earth, correct?”

He routinely turns down invitations to swanky places because it’s “been hammered into his DNA to not ‘rock the boat’ “

I won’t attempt to summarize any further what he wrote because I won’t be able to do it justice. You’ll have to (click the highlighted link above) and read it for yourself. He wrote this right after the acquittal verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.

I wish I could say that his story is rare, an anomaly. Sadly it’s not. It is so common that African American parents in our country have to explain to their sons at a young age how people may perceive them and react to them.

They have The Talk with their sons.

No, not the sex talk. This is a conversation aimed at preventing young black men from inciting violence or suspicion or incarceration because of the color of their skin. This conversation informs these young boys that they must tread lightly around white men and police and other authority figures. Tragic stories abound of young black men being roughed up by the police for no reason. Young black men being killed because they didn’t defer to authority even in the face of extreme and obvious injustice. Young black men being shot because they were simply there.

Don’t talk back to white men.

Don’t try to explain, even when they have obviously mistaken you for someone else.

Don’t run down the street, someone might think you stole something.

Don’t hang out on the corner with a group of friends, they might assume you’re in a gang.

Don’t reach for your phone, they might think you’re reaching for a gun.

Move slowly.

Keep your hands visible at all times.

You may say that these are reasonable instructions for anyone. But I don’t know anyone personally who has been arrested or killed who did nothing wrong, committed no crime. Because I’m a white woman living in suburbia.

I have never had to tell my son that if he is running down the street that someone may assume he has committed a crime. Think about the absurdity of that for a minute. Don’t run. Your game of tag or your attempt to race to a friend’s house may be perceived as a threat. Think about telling your son not to run down the street. Ever. That is the reality you face if you are the parent of a young black boy.

This isn’t a new thing. The Talk dates back to 1863 following the Emancipation Proclamation. When slaves were freed in rebel states they were told to not celebrate openly, to essentially “fly under the radar” to avoid giving angry rebels cause to go after them. What I learned after the Trayvon Martin case was that The Talk still exists. It’s still relevant and necessary.

The Talk is a sad part of coming of age in the black community. And I had never heard of it before. Such is the privilege of being white in America. You can say you know racism is still alive in our country. You can have your heart ache with each new story of a son and a brother being shot. But if you’re white in America, you don’t know what it’s like. This is a reality that has been around for over a century and most of us have never and will never experience what it’s like to live in this kind of fear.

Right after the verdict in the Martin case, another trial was beginning. A 76 year old man was on trial for the murder of his 13 year old neighbor. He thought that Darius Simmons, a young black boy, had broken into his home days earlier. He shot him in the chest and killed him.

Recently our national attention was tuned in to the “Loud Music” trial. Michael Dunn faces up to 60 years in prison for firing 10 rounds into a car of young black men, killing 17 year old Jordan Davis.

These are just the cases that make the news. How many cases are there that don’t result in an arrest, that never catch the fleeting attention of the media? Democracy Now reported that in a study of 2012 shootings, that “at least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012.”

Becoming numb to these horrific stories, to these appalling tales, is not an option. You can’t be numb if you look at their faces.

The faces of these children who were murdered.

These sons who were loved and adored as much as you and I love and adore our own children.

These are children. And they are gone forever.

Because they went to buy Skittles.

Because they were taking out the trash.

Because they turned the radio up.

For buying Skittles
Walking home after buying Skittles
He was taking out the trash
Taking out the trash
He turned the music up too loud.
Playing music too loud.

You can’t look at these faces and feel numb.

If you’re like me you feel kicked in the gut. Despair.

I see a little of my son in each of them. I feel pain for the parents of these boys. I feel sorrow for them because I know a little bit about what it’s like to lose someone you love at such a tender age.

And I feel enraged.

I feel pulse racing, heat inducing, hand trembling rage.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

But I will have The Talk with my son.

With my white,suburban dwelling, young son.

Not for the same reason and not the exact same talk. I will explain to my son that because he is growing up  as a young white man in our country that this talk isn’t essential to his survival. But that he needs to know that it is essential for many boys his age.

I will explain that some of his friends are having The Talk with their parents because without it they may inadvertently put themselves, their very lives, at risk.

I will tell him that he needs to know that racism, which baffles a young innocent boy like him, is still present. That he needs to know that what goes on around him, even if it doesn’t affect him directly, is still worth his concern and attention. That even if by the time he has children The Talk isn’t necessary, that he can never forget it.

I will tell him that to forget our ugly sordid past with racism in this country is to ignore and deny a threat to our humanity.

That to forget allows it to fester and grow and continue.

Questlove’s story has stuck with me since I read it many months ago. It was heartbreaking. And it illustrates the magnitude of the problem. A noticeable famous figure, on t.v. five nights a week for the last five years, still encounters fear and racism.

Yes, racism is alive and well. And it’s ludicrous that anyone would need to be informed of that.

It’s not obvious to those of us who don’t feel the brutal brunt of it on a regular basis. Many people will scoff and point to our black president. Some will recite all of the ridiculous defenses and excuses that have been trotted out by lawyers and pundits in a lame attempt to explain how and why these children were killed.

But denying it is extremely dangerous.

Denying it or downplaying it allows it to continue.

Sticking our heads in the sand may seem comforting at first. Ignorance is bliss and all.

But eventually that sand becomes suffocating as will the cold reality of who we are- what kind of people we become if we can see the faces of these children who have been killed because of how they look, because of their race- and don’t at the very least acknowledge it. If we do that then we become no better than him:

Michael Dunn, upon hearing his verdict.
Michael Dunn, who shot Jordan Davis,upon hearing his verdict.

We become the personification of self righteous indignation when we shrug off the realities that black families in our country still face.

Jordan Davis’ mom put it best,

“You can’t pretend anymore. The blinders are off now. If there is this level of racism, it can’t be under the table anymore. It has to be exposed so we can deal with it.”

I say that we can’t deny racism as long as parents are still having The Talk.

The conversation that’s been a necessity -a tool of survival in the African American community for 151 years- when that conversation is no longer needed, then we can declare victory. Then we can say that it was a part of our past, no longer plaguing our society.

When it’s no longer necessary to “hammer it into (the) DNA” of young black boys, then and only then, will we have justice for Trayvon… for Darius… for Jordan.

Update, August 22, 2014: And now for Michael Brown.

Big Mike Jr Brown via Facebook
Big Mike Jr Brown via Facebook

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“You can’t always get what you want,

But if you try sometimes you just might find,

You get what you need.”

-The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want

We are ruining them. Our kids. Every day that we lavish praise on them and reward them for mediocrity we’re ruining them. We’re teaching them that showing up is worthy of enthusiastic applause. We are showing them how to excel at being average. We are lowering bars and lowering I.Q.’s. We are enforcing the destination not the journey. And we will one day send them off into the world to get a giant, blindsiding slap in the face when reality comes charging at them full speed.

I Am Guilty

I’m guilty of it. Most of us are guilty of some of this or all of this. It starts when you feel that all-consuming love for a small baby that needs you for everything. We marvel at them. We all think our babies are exceptional and amazing in every way. And that’s ok. Having a child feels like a small miracle. It is a life changing experience. We should have a few years of obnoxious, gleeful celebration. And we should encourage and cheer for every milestone with these little prodigies. Babies need the affirmation. They need constant encouragement and reassurance.

The problem is that while babies grow out of this need as they get older, the parents don’t grow out of the need to give it. We continue to applaud. Applaud them for going down the slide (when in fact gravity is to be credited for this feat). We gush over every scribbled picture. What happens when your kids catch you throwing away some of their 8,000 pieces of artwork? They flip out. They feel wronged. Because we have led them to believe that every paper that they grace with their crayon is a Monet. I know this. I have little prima donna artists who think it is sacrilege to dispose of their “art.”

Everyone Wins, Everyone Gets A Trophy

Know what makes winning not so fun? When everyone wins. All the time. Parents don’t want their little slugger’s feelings to be hurt when his team loses, so someone somewhere decided that all the kids should win. So work hard, Buddy! Show up to practice and maybe, just maybe… no definitely. You will definitely win. No matter what. Now that’s some motivation. Nothing gets the kids all fired up like “even if you win, you really don’t win because we don’t keep score.”

And everyone must get a trophy. Why? Because they showed up, dammit.  You know what else everyone gets? A Tetanus shot. (well, sadly, that’s not actually true, but you get the idea) We have a generation that gets trophies for being on a team. Not for doing anything remarkable or winning a tournament, but just for showing up for games and practices. My son’s closet is full of these trophies. And he doesn’t care. They mean nothing to him. What did mean something to him was getting the game ball. Because not everyone got the game ball. And he had to earn it. It was special.

Life’s Not Always A Party

Our school adopted the “no homemade treats” rule. And some of the parents on Facebook acted like they were suggesting we feed our kids gruel and beat them with switches. A policy that is meant to protect kids with allergies was beaten down as a taking away of a childhood of joy.  Nevermind that a child in the class could possibly die from an allergen in the sugary treat. The mentality that puts little Precious’ happiness with a cupcake over another child’s safety is one that confounds me and scares me. My child’s happiness will never be worth more than another child’s life.

And the parties… don’t get me wrong. I love a good party. But since when is school also a party palace for every holiday? At the risk of sounding like Wilford Brimley, when I was in school we had two parties. One at Christmas/Hannukah and one at the end of the year. These parties consisted of Kool Aid and a cookie and some games of Red Rover. We loved it. Try to do a party like that in school these days and you’ll get the eye roll from even the sweetest kindergartner. We’ve spoiled them with elaborate celebrations in and out of school for every holiday or event. Even made up holidays! The 100th day of school is to now be celebrated for the historical and cultural even that it is! *eye roll*

Now we have Elf On the Shelf grrrrr… Pinterest-ized Valentines ugh… and the “Naughty Leprechaun?” What the….??? Since when did we decide that St. Patrick’s Day was for the kids? Don’t they have enough already? St. Patrick’s Day is for adults. It’s for us to drink green beer and act stupid. Kids, all you get to do is wear a green shirt and possibly get pinched. Now sit down and eat your gruel before I get out the switch…

All Of This Results In…

Entitled kids. Young adults with no sense of self awareness. A child-centric childhood that teaches kids that the world revolves around them. That the world is a soft fluffy place that will never ask too much, will never scuff them up, that will never demand anything. That phoning it in is acceptable. That someone will always fix things for them. That they are everything. That they are special.

What’s wrong with letting your kids think they’re special? Nothing. Unless that’s all you let them think, all the time.

The more we tell them that every little thing they do is “special” the less special that compliment becomes. Pretty soon “special” is their default, not-even-trying mode.

Kids are always going to take the easy path. Why wouldn’t they? If they can get an “A” on a project for slapping something together in between playing Minecraft, then why would they push themselves? If their mild attempts are lauded as exceptional, they will never try to go beyond that. They will only reach as high as the bar we set for them.

So, no, you’re not special. Sorry kids, but you’re better off hearing it now. Before you try to demand a raise three months into a new job. Before you have to eat at Taco Bell every day, all while carrying your Prada purse that Mommy and Daddy bought you. Before you realize you will have to be the one to pay off the giant credit card debt you incurred because you deserved stuff.

So, it may sting right now. It may be a bitter pill to swallow. But heed this message now and you’ll find that hollow, empty feeling of getting awarded for all things all the time replaced with pride. With the confidence of doing hard work. Of knowing you’re capable of hard work. You will discover new emotions. Gratification. Fulfillment. Purpose. Self respect. All of that can be yours. As long as your realize that the only way to be special is to earn it.

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“You can’t always get what you want,

But if you try sometimes, You just might find,

You get what you need.”

-The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Parents hear it all the time, “That’s so unfair!” If you’re like me you respond with something like “Yeah, yeah kid. Life’s not fair. Get over it.” It’s the circle of life, the cycle of parenting (or any other round shaped metaphor). We said it to our parents, our kids say it to us and one day their kids will be saying it to them. The reason for this is because life isn’t fair. There was no guarantee upon birth that your life would be even-keeled and full of justice. No one made any of us promises of an entire lifetime of things going our way. And that’s a good thing. There are times when it sucks. There are times when it is tragic and beyond comprehension. I’m not talking about the unfair tragedies in life. I’m talking about your every day, run of the mill inequities.

Some of these things are good for us to experience. Often there’s some kind of lesson to be learned from life’s unfairness. Following are some things that most of us experienced at some point in our youth. And we probably whined and threw a fit about them. But really? Many times these things serve to teach us a lesson. We just may not realize it until 20 years later.

1. Bad teachers: Now, I’m not talking about teachers that are predators. Obviously that is beyond the category of unfair. I’m talking about mean teachers. They are miserable. They don’t really seem to like kids. They don’t really seem to like teaching. Maybe they have a personality disorder. They are rude, they make snide comments about you. Maybe they single you out in front of the class. As long as they are not crossing the line into verbal abuse, get over it. I’m talking about older grades here. Once a kid is hitting the pre-teen/teen years they should be able to deal with a teacher who’s a little rough around the edges. There are a lot of great teachers out there, but every once in a while you’re going to get a teacher that’s just an ass. Guess what? One day you’ll have a college professor who’s an ass. One day you’ll have a boss who’s an ass. Assholes exist in all walks of life and all professions, so you may as well learn how to deal with them at a young age.

Sorry kids, they ain't all Morgan Freeman
Sorry kids, they can’t all be Morgan Freeman

2. Not making the team. Yes, this will feel a little harsh too. You had your heart set on wearing the cute volleyball uniform and you had even experimented with different hair styles that would both be flattering and keep the hair out of your face as you spiked the ball over the net. Except you can’t even figure out how to serve the ball and you tend to run into the net when trying to assist. So, you don’t make the team, but you learned a valuable lesson. Playing sports is hard work. It takes dedication and practice. And just because you and your best friend had already picked out your Maverick and Iceman nicknames doesn’t mean you were fully prepared for tryouts. Come back next year, tiger, and show ’em what you’re made of.

That’s right Ice… Man. I’m dangerous.

3. Not getting the “stuff” other kids get. Some kids get all the coolest newest stuff. The cool toys, the cool clothes, the cool shoes. And for every kid that gets these hot ticket items, there’s at least a few who don’t. Who bug their parents for said item. Who compare the parents of said spoiled child to you. Well guess what kid, I am not and never will be that parent that runs out and gets you the latest and greatest just because every one else has it. You may get it eventually, on an appropriate gift giving occasion. But chances are I’ll find a bargain version of that big ticket item and it will be almost as good as the one your friend has. But getting everything you want, when you want it, just sets you up to be sorely disappointed when real life doesn’t work out that way. Or it sets you up to be an entitled asshole. Either way, learning to delay gratification at a young age definitely serves most kids better and sets them up for reasonable expectations as adults.

Brooke was all like, "Nothing gets between me and my Calvins…"
Brooke was all, “Nothing gets between me and my Calvins…”

And I was like:

Mom Jeans

4. Not getting invited to every social event. This can sting a little. Sometimes you may be left out. You may get your feelings hurt if a group of friends is doing something without you. This one takes some savvy analyzing to deal with properly. Are your friends excluding you in a hurtful way? Or is it based in practicality (there’s only so many kids that can attend a sleep over before it turns into Animal House and John Belushi is sleeping on the floor in your living room.)

 “Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! ”
“Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! ”

You see kids, you won’t get invited to everything when you’re an adult. You may have to miss out on a neighbor’s cook-out or maybe you won’t be on the invite list for your coworker’s Christmas party. Maybe they only had so much food to serve. Maybe they forgot to invite you. It’s fine, really. It’s not a big deal. Because you worked through these types of issues when you were younger and learned to not take it personally. You didn’t really want to go anyways. You don’t really like hanging out with those people that much. I mean, they are kind of annoying and obnoxious with all their socializing and stuff…   O.K. -maybe you’re still not over this one.

5. That long awkward phase. There’s no positive spin on this one. It’s rough. The worst part is you know you’re totally awkward. You’re hair is full of cowlicks and a bad perm. Your teeth are too big for your face.

Almost this bad
That awkward moment when you realize the Awkward Brian meme is eerily similar to your school picture…

You’re clumsy. You drop your tray in the cafeteria in front of everyone. You stutter and stammer. You try to sound cool but it just doesn’t work. You try to be funny but no one laughs. This is a tough time. There’s nothing you can do but wait out this phase. It will pass eventually. You will grow into your teeth, you will learn to laugh at yourself when you do trip and fall (because that will never change). Eventually you will look back at these years and cringe and try to burn all the pictures and evidence so that your future husband doesn’t have to carry the mental picture around in his head of your “Greg Brady Phase”. You will wonder why your older sister never went through this phase and why all of your friends seemed to grow out of it much sooner. You may carry the scars with you forever and still picture yourself as the dorky 13 year old even when you have your own 13 year old to parent.

But, hey, that phase was good for you, right? You learned something from it, I’m sure. Right? Oh, @*$#  it! There was no bright side to this! This sucked! There’s no lesson to learn here, no sunshine to be blown up the arse about this one. This one has no reason. I see no need for kids to go through this “feeling uncomfortable in your own skin” kind of stage. This is a chapter in life that could be completely left out and we’d all be better off for it. It’s even worse when some people seem to breeze through these years unscathed- gleaming teeth, shiny hair that is always perfectly styled, graceful and confident and popular. While some of us feel like this:

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It’s just. Not. Fair.

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“Before you cross the street, take my hand

 Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans..

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,

beautiful boy…”

-John Lennon, Beautiful Boy

I like to think I’m a creative person.  I used to lay in my room for hours on end, on the floor with earphones on, music blasting, daydreaming.  I used to lay in bed at night long after everyone else was asleep, imagining crazy “What ifs”….  what if I’m lying in a coma right now and everyone and everything I see and know in my life is just in my imagination, one long weird coma dream?  I spent a lot of time in my youth thinking of alternate realities and outlandish ideas.

I have found that while I can imagine far flung scenarios and crazy hypotheticals, I can’t seem to imagine the most basic, impending life events.  I spend a lot of time trying to imagine the next thing, the next milestone, the next phase in my life.  When I was engaged I spent a lot of time wondering what married life would be like. When I was pregnant with my son I could not picture myself as a mom.  This baby that I so desperately wanted, was so excited to be having, seemed like a figment of my imagination.  I actually thought I would “wake up” and not be pregnant, not be in that life.  I almost expected it.  I almost expected to wake up and be in my childhood bed and realize that it was all a dream.

I did get married, I had my son and then two daughters. I didn’t wake up and have it all taken away from me.  Now I am the mother of a 13 year old boy.  I am the mother of a teenager.  Now I can’t imagine what this life is.  Not the future.  I don’t have time to consider him at 18, 25, or 30.  I am still trying to grasp the now.  I am still trying to reconcile the boy who is growing and changing and becoming someone new right before my eyes.

I am really proud of myself that I didn’t dissolve into an emotional puddle on his birthday.  I am usually pretty emotional on my kids’ birthdays.  I relive the days they were born…  This time, 10 years ago, my water broke…  This time 4 years ago, I wept with joy when they placed you in my arms….  I didn’t do any of that on my son’s 13th birthday.  We celebrated, we opened gifts.  I didn’t cry or get emotional.  I think that my brain was in protective denial mode.  I didn’t really think about the milestone we were celebrating.  My son’s first steps into teen-dom.  The beginning of him evolving from a boy to a man.  He is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing.  He’s finding his own way, finding his own voice.  He’s becoming his own person, separate for the first time from who my husband and I are.  He’s not emulating us or trying to be like us.  He’s figuring out who he is.

I don’t think anyone really prepares you for this.  You can read countless articles about parenting a teen.  The lamenting of the loss of innocence, the stress of keeping them safe from bad influences and dangerous situations.  You hear parents talk about the moodiness, the attitudes, the back talk.  Those are all things I expected to have to deal with.  I have been mentally preparing for all of those things.  How to squelch the bad attitude, how to prepare him to avoid danger and fight urges that are risky.  I really wasn’t prepared to see him differently.  He is still my baby, the little boy that would try to hold doors open for me as a toddler, the little boy who would climb on my lap and rest his head on my chest.  He will always be the little boy that was protective of me, who would often say, “Be ‘tareful Momma.”  The little boy who pointed out every god- forsaken truck we saw driving down the road.  In my mind he will always be that little boy.  But reality is smacking me in the face too.

I see him asking insightful and thoughtful questions about current events and injustices  around the world.  I see him taking interests in music and becoming a sports stats enthusiast.  I see him branching out and making new friends.  Friends outside our little bubble of a world that he has safely been cocooned in for over a decade.  He’s developing a whole life separate from my husband and I.

My natural instinct is to resist this, to keep him close to home, close to us.  But I know that I can’t do that.  It wouldn’t be fair to him.  He would likely rebel.  He would likely resent us.  So I find myself walking a on a very shaky tightrope.  Trying to grant him some freedom and independence while also keeping him completely connected to our family unit.  I want him to develop his sense of self, learn to navigate all of the tricky twists and turns on his own.  I am trying to do this while letting him know that we’re here to help him if he has questions about which way to go.

This is the hard part.  It was hard seeing him walk into the doors of Kindergarten, it was hard watching him take off to ride his bike around the neighborhood for the first time.  It was hard letting him go to his first sleepover.  But none of that compares to this.  Those were controlled situations.  I was able to be involved and monitor and manage all of those situations.  Now, I have to hold my breath and hope.  Hope that the last 13 years of us teaching him values will stick.  Hope that he will listen to his gut if he feels unsure about something.  Trust that he will make more right decisions than wrong ones.  And keep my fingers crossed that even though he’s going out into the world a little more and venturing into unchartered waters, that he’ll still want to hang out with us, that he won’t dread family time.

I know I’ll see him mess up.  He’s human, he’s still learning.  I know I’ll see him fall.  He’s going to get hurt.  It’s going to kill me to see that happen but we’ll be here to get him through it.  I haven’t even tried to imagine any of this.  I haven’t tried to tap into my creativity to think of the scenarios and try to prepare for them.  That would be a fruitless endeavor.  I have to let go of the reigns just a little and hand them over to him.  I have to let him have his own journey.  This is his time, not mine.  Not my husband’s.

I know that we’ve raised a good kid.  He is a sweet, caring soul.  He is smart and funny and I know he wants to make us proud.  That is the warm blanket of comfort I will wrap myself in as he makes his own way.  I still see that little boy when I look at him.  I still see the little boy I carried on my hip.  His eyes are just as big and brown and sincere.  He still has the same smile that can light up the room.  But I also see a young man.  A young man that will be taller than me in a matter of months.  A young man that could pick me up effortlessly.  A young man who seems capable of more than I’m willing to admit to myself.  I will let him go, just a little, because it’s what I’m supposed to do.  But I won’t stop mothering him and I won’t stop worrying.  When he walks out the door, I’ll still whisper to myself, “Be ‘tareful, son.”

“Fathers be good to your daughters, Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers be good to your daughters too.”

-John Mayer, Daughters

Doyin Richards is a father who took a few months off from his corporate job to stay home with his daughters while his wife worked. He has a blog where he writes about parenting and his experiences being a stay at home dad. He recently posted this picture:

Photo from Daddy Doin' Work
Photo from Daddy Doin’ Work

And then things blew up. He’s been on the news, on talk shows. Everybody’s talking about this picture. What was your reaction when you saw it? Mine was Wow, that’s a great dad… Not everyone had a positive reaction. He received a lot of positive response but also a fair share of negative comments. Many of them racist, some of them demeaning him for not working. I think it’s clear from this picture that this man is working. He’s multitasking and he’s nurturing and he’s doing the every day tasks of parenting.

I can’t wrap my brain around peoples’ negative reactions to this. To all the men who were hating on this Dad, let me clue you in. Every woman who sees this picture loves it. We think it’s awesome. You want the woman in your life to really find you sexy? Take notes from this man. It’s not your car or your wallet that we find attractive, it’s your dedication to your family. It’s your involvement with your children.

Real men get on the floor and play with their kids. Real men give their kids baths. Real men put the kids to bed and read them stories and sing them silly songs. Real men change diapers. Real men don’t view this parenting thing as something they drop into once in a while. Real men get down in the trenches with their partner and work as a team.

I know women who say their husbands refuse to change diapers. Some men who have a few children have never changed a diaper. I am not being flippant when I say that as a wife that might be a deal breaker for me. I don’t think I could respect or be attracted to a man who refused to do some of the most basic parenting tasks.

When we had my son 13 years ago (gulp), my husband was more at ease with caring for a baby than I was. I had a younger brother and babysat often growing up but I still was in a state of panic every time my son cried. My husband was calm and reassuring. He had grown up the oldest of four and his mom ran a day care out of the house for a number of years so he was completely comfortable with babies (and he didn’t have crazy postpartum hormones coursing through his veins). I was in awe of him those first few days. He took over when I was overwhelmed. He would get up with me in the middle of the night when I had to feed our son. I didn’t demand any of this. He did these things because he wanted to. He wanted to be a part of everything and experience this journey with me and our son.

With all three of our children he changed diapers. He played with them. He did everything I did with our children. Many things he did better. While I would sing them lullabies, he would make up his own songs that would make them laugh. While I would play games on the floor with them, he would come up with crazy scenarios and stunts that would engage them in a different way that seemed way more fun. There were times in those early days that I was a little envious of his funny antics that our kids loved. He was more creative and silly and fun than I was. But that jealousy was short lived. I loved watching him with them. I still do. Even now that they’re older and all way beyond the diaper stage, he still is just as involved with them.

When he takes them to school he sings along to the radio but change the words to make them laugh. He’ll still brush my daughter’s hair when she’ll let him. He plays basketball with my son and even when it gets competitive my son’s grinning ear to ear and laughing. He texts my son when he’s out of town. He still snuggles with my four year old and puts her to bed most nights when he’s home. He’s not just involved, it’s obvious to my kids that there is no where he’d rather be. And I’m so grateful for that.

As a stay at home mom, most of the parenting tasks fall on me. My husband works very hard at his job, but I know that when he comes home I get a little bit of a break. I know that I’m lucky. I don’t for one second take it for granted. I hope that men like Doyin Richards and other great dads out there keep doing what they’re doing. Hopefully eventually a picture like the one Richards posted won’t seem unusual. A woman could have posted the same picture and no one would have noticed. One day our society will catch up with fathers like Richards, like my husband, like many other dads I know who are great dads. There are tons of amazing dads out there. Our generation has improved on the concept of what it is to be a dad. Dads are no longer just the disciplinarians and bread winners of the past. But I still celebrate dads that do it all. As a mom, as a woman, as a wife, I am grateful to these men. I am so glad that I have a partner who is involved in all aspects of my kids’ lives. I am so glad that I married a real man.

“My pain is self chosen, at least so the Prophet says.  I could either burn or cut off my pride and buy some time.  A head full of lies is the weight tied to my waist”

-Mad Season, River of Deciet

Assholes should not be allowed to have kids.  Someone should stop them.  If they actually have friends, those friends should intervene before procreation occurs.  If they have no friends, maybe that fact alone should indicate that children are a bad idea.

For the purpose of this writing an asshole will be defined as:  A selfish prick who doesn’t care about anyone or anything of real value (i.e. family, kids, morals, etc.)  If you find you fit this definition, please do us all a favor and don’t have children.  Don’t even adopt children, as asshole-ness is likely more nurture than nature.

I’m not saying Ethan Couch should never been born.  But I am saying that the two assholes who are his parents should never have been allowed to have children.  Ethan Couch,16,  murdered four innocent people and seriously injured two others.  He drove at 70 mph into a group of people that were trying to help a stranded motorist.  He killed all four of them and threw two people from the bed of the giant pick up truck he was driving.  One of them is paralyzed and can’t speak due to his injuries.  Couch’s blood alcohol level tested more than three times the legal limit and he had valium in his system.  First responders said the accident scene was the most horrific they’d ever seen.  They compared it to an airplane crash, with bodies and body parts scattered all over the road.  According to reports, Couch was uncooperative at the crash scene and said “I’m outta here” as he walked away.

He was just sentenced to 10 years probation and lawyers are asking that he serve part of that time at a $450,000/year rehabilitation center.  People are understandably outraged.  The victims’ families are devastated.  A psychologist testifying on behalf of the defense claimed that Couch suffered from “Affluenza” and that his parents were responsible for his behavior.  First, let us point out that this psychologist either didn’t understand the definition of Affluenza or he intentionally twisted it to fit the ludicrous defense theory.  “Affluenza” is a term used to describe the obsession of wealth and materialism in our country.  It was intended as a social criticism, not as an affliction or condition of which one suffers.  Second, I don’t disagree that the parents are responsible for Couch’s actions.  But to suggest that he is not responsible is insane.

Fred and Tonya Couch are, by all accounts, pretty bad at the whole parenting thing.  They certainly seem guilty of neglect.  They bought their son a motorcycle when he was 4 or 5 years old.  They bought him a car and allowed him to drive when he was 13 years old.  According to friends, he lived in a mansion by himself.  His millionaire father gifted him the mansion during the two asshole’s contentious divorce.  Apparently Couch had many wild parties there, in this mansion with a pool.   A house that certainly was not a home, that was virtually empty except for a couch and a t.v. and an XBox.  Oh, and apparently lots of alcohol.  It sounds like this kid was living a pretty empty life full of things but not the one thing most kids want:  attentive loving parents, limits and stability.  Instead he got stuck with assholes for parents.  Even the defense lawyers and the psychologist will agree to that.

But here’s the thing.  Lot’s of people have assholes for parents.  Lot’s of people were neglected as children.  If you were hit as a child, it doesn’t mean you have to grow up and hit your kids.  If you were abandoned by your parents, it doesn’t mean you have to grow up and abandon any children you have.  We have all been given this thing called free will.  Just because you were raised by materialistic, narcissistic, selfish assholes doesn’t mean you have to get in your truck after downing some beer and valium and ruin so many lives.

Ethan Couch took four lives and ruined many others on that June night.  He expressed no remorse at the accident scene.  He apparently told one of the kids riding in the truck with him, “Don’t worry, I’m Ethan Couch.  I’ll get you out of this.”  He had learned by his indulgent parents and their tendency to throw money at a problem, that because of his wealth he would suffer no consequences.  Just a year ago police caught Couch with a naked, passed out 14 year old girl.  There are no indications that he suffered any repercussions.  What would have been an alarming wake up call for any concerned parent was just a foreshadowing of worse things to come.

I wish I could say that this situation is as rare as it is absurd.  Unfortunately, our country is riddled with stories of the rich getting away with all kinds of things.  Our society and our judicial system have given free passes to the wealthy for a sordid array of crimes and violations.  There are a different set of rules for the wealthy.  None of this occurs in a vacuum.  Our society supports assholes like this and their warped “money trumps all” mentality.  The heavy hand of justice is swift to come down on a poor black or hispanic male if he is suspected of committing a crime.  Change his ethnicity to Caucasian and that hand gets a little lighter.  Change his socio-economic status to wealthy and that heavy hand now becomes a mere slap on the wrist.

The psychologist who used the word “affluenza” to absolve Ethan Couch of responsibility has since said he regretted using that term.  He doesn’t regret the message, but he regrets that word.  He seems to think that word is what has everyone so worked up.  I would argue that that word is relevant to this story.  The judge in this case, Jean Boyd, seems to be the one who is guilty of the “affluenza” mindset.  Just last year she sentenced a 14 year old black boy to 10 years in prison for punching a bystander who subsequently fell and hit his head on a curb and died.  Boyd apparently thought this boy needed to be held accountable for his actions.  This boy was black.  Couch is white.  This boy is 14 years old.  Couch is 16 years old.  This boy killed one person.  Couch killed four and gravely injured two others.  Both boys should be held accountable.  Both should be punished.  Yet the judge saw a reason to give the older boy with more blood on his hands probation.  If you’re looking for a walking example of “affluenza”, you need to look no further than Jean Boyd.  (mental note, assholes should not allowed to be judges either).

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that all wealthy people are assholes or bad parents.  It just so happens that these two assholes are rich.  There are plenty of poor assholes who are awful parents.  Neither scenario is fair to the kids.  If you are an asshole in this vein, one of selfish neglectful tendencies, please do the rest of us a favor.  Don’t indulge yourself by taking on the biggest commitment possible.  Having a child is a really big deal.  It’s the most important thing you’ll ever do.  If you can step out of your delusional world of which you are the center for a moment, please recognize and acknowledge that this is an undertaking that is beyond you.  We don’t need more heinous accidents like the one caused by Ethan Couch.  We don’t need assholes raising more assholes.

“I told you I was trouble, You know I’m no good”

-Amy Winehouse, You Know I’m No Good

Who, me???
Who, me???

So, the task at hand is to write about a time I got in trouble.  My first thought was that I wouldn’t have anything to write about.  I am a total rule follower.  This one’s going to take some digging in the deepest recesses of my mind….  I mulled it over a while and started remember little things here and there.  I soon realized all these little things were adding up….  Could I have been living a lie all these years???  My persona of being a good girl just blew up in my face in slow motion…

It all started with my first lie.  My lie was in the form of an imaginary friend.  At the  tender age of 3 years, I did not know what an imaginary friend was but I was about to invent one.  It was a small offense, I spilled something or broke something, I can’t quite remember.  When I was busted, I blamed it on Billy Monkey.  Not sure where this came from, but my mom’s reaction ensured that he was sticking around for a while.  She thought it was adorable.  She told her friends that I had an imaginary friend and that she was sure it was a sign of intelligence and creativity.   Hmmm, this was convenient.  My mischievous monkey was quite amusing to the one person in charge of disciplining me.  I took full advantage of this.  I used the Billy Monkey excuse all the time.  “Billy Monkey did it” was always followed by uproarious laughter.  It became almost as rote as the Laugh In “Sock it to me” punch line, it was like having a laugh track playing in our little apartment.  My mom would even prompt me to say it for her friends.  They would all laugh hysterically.  The only person who didn’t seem amused by it was my sister.  She would scowl and roll her eyes every time.  I think she was on to my little game.

I played the Billy Monkey schtick out as long as I could.  Eventually my mom tired of it and these words didn’t magically exempt me from punishment.  Well, it was good while it lasted.

So, I lied and it was celebrated.  I think my little 3 year old mind started to understand about the “gray area” when it comes to breaking rules.  Some rules you just can’t break.  You can’t hurt someone else.  You can’t cheat.  But a little tiny broken rule here or there?  As long as no one else gets hurt, it’s not too bad.  The one exception to this was when I learned from a crafty preschool friend the art of biting your arm just enough to produce teeth marks.  She demonstrated to me how to get someone in trouble.  I watched in awe as she walked up to the teacher and tearfully showed her the bite marks while pointing to an unsuspecting child across the room.  Of course the child got punished.  I had no desire to use this on any of my preschool friends, but I couldn’t wait to use this to get my sister in trouble.  She was three years older and was my protector and my tormentor all at the same time.  She would (very convincingly) tell me that I was actually adopted and my mom wasn’t my real mom.  She would give me a piece of candy and after I swallowed it she would cackle and tell me there was an ant on it and now it was going to live in my stomach and have baby ants.  So, you see, this was a case of me giving her a little of her own medicine, protecting myself from my sister’s cruelty.  See, gray area

My mom fell for it, a few times.  My sister got in pretty big trouble.  I was heady with the power, this was a major coup against my sister who was bigger and craftier and always out-smarted me.  I got too cocky, I used this trick too many times, too close together.  Game over-  my mom was on to my deviant ways.

For the most part I was a good kid.  I never got in trouble at school.  I always made good grades.  I was polite, I never talked back.  But I did, on occasion, push the envelope, dance on the edge of real trouble, always pulling back before things got out of control.  It was always in the name of having a good time.  I would never be able to do something that was mean or hurtful to someone else, but breaking the rules to have a little fun?  That’s not so bad, is it?

Mom, you may want to stop reading now…

(Deep inhale)  I skipped school in high school a few times.  Sometimes a group of us would leave just to get something to eat.  Once or twice it developed in to a full fledged party that would last until the end of the school day at someone’s house.  There was the Senior Ski Trip that I miraculously convinced my parents was chaperoned.  Technically, it was.  One of my friends’ brother was of legal age and he and some buddies “chaperoned” about 20 of us – gray area.

There was the time my Sophomore year that my best friend and I told our parents we were going to spend the day at the local amusement park.  We instead drove 3 hours to the beach to spend a few hours hanging out with our boyfriends who were there for their senior trip.  We were back before dark.  We did drive to the amusement park, circle in front of it and go home.  So, technically we did go to the amusement park – gray area?

Then there was the time that I spent the night at my best friend’s house and we snuck out in the middle of the night to hang out with friends at the neighborhood pool.  We snuck back in a few hours later, through a window we left open in her living room.  We didn’t count on the dog barking furiously.  We heard her mom rushing down the stairs to see why the dog was barking at 3am.  We quickly threw ourselves on the living room couches and turned on the t.v. and pretended to be asleep.  Her mom “woke” us up, asked us why the dog was barking…  we yawned and feigned groggy confusion.  She saw the open window with the drapes blowing in the breeze and ordered us upstairs to go to sleep.  We woke the next day to see policemen dusting the window sill for finger prints.  My friend’s mom was a wreck, thinking that someone tried to break in to her house while my friend and I slept only feet away.  I quickly gathered my things and left.  I felt awful.  My friend called me later to say they were having a community watch meeting about the attempted break in.  -I know, no gray area.  This was pretty bad.

I’m not going to get in to the college years.  I think those years are exempt from any kind of judgement or condemnation, right?  I mean, college is a time to explore, spread your wings, push boundaries….  I loved college.

So, I think the moral of this story, for those of us who have children or may one day have them: don’t ever laugh at and/or encourage your child’s imaginary friend.  They know it’s bullshit, they are just playing along and trying to be cute to get out of trouble.  They will act like they think he’s real.  They will insist that he needs a place to sit at the dinner table.  They will work this angle and come up with stories about their “friend”.   They will mess with your head and make you think that they think he/she/it is real.  They will do this because they will be amazed that you are falling for it.  But really they’re just being a lying little twerp. And your gullible response may just lead them down the path of fun-filled-yet-possibly-dangerous shenanigans that if my kids ever engage in any such activities I will yank them out of the world they know and ship them off to a nunnery or military school until they learn that Mom knows all the tricks and there is no gray in the world they live in, it’s all black and white and primary colors.

remember-the-time-blog-hop