Friday, July 24, 2015

Why My Son's Nail Polish is Not Just Nail Polish

Anyone who knows me knows my son Aaron likes to have his nails painted, and that I (and my husband) have no problem with that.  He gets a lot of flack for it - surprisingly more from little girls than little boys - but he rides it out.

"Mommy, they were laughing at me at karate today because of my nails."

I feel my heart lurch a bit in that mom-response to your child being made fun of, and say "And what did you tell them?"

He shrugs.  "That I like it."

That's it.  It's nail polish.  He likes it.  So what.  It's just nail polish.

Only it's not just nail polish.

The thing is, I have spoken those words so many times in response to people that I have rarely stopped to think about what it means to say that.

Yes, in a way it's just nail polish.  It defines nothing about him.  It doesn't make him "girly" (and if it did, why is that a bad thing?), it doesn't signify sexual preferences (not that we care who he loves as long as he is happy), it just means he likes nail polish.  He likes the colours, he likes how it looks.

It's just nail polish.

But when it comes to how we react to his desire to wear nail polish, it becomes something else.

It becomes part of his relationship with us, of our acceptance of him for who he is, and of our unwavering support of his desire to express who he is.

It becomes a part of his knowledge of and trust in our support and love.

It becomes part of the relationship we are building with a small person who is on a journey to figure out who he is and how he fits into this world, and to figuring out what to do when he doesn't fit into this world.

One day, he will face greater peer pressure than simply "you can't wear nail polish, you're a boy", but he is going to know that his parents support his decision to go his own way, even if people laugh at him, and he will do the right thing (we hope).

One day, he may feel something inside that he is afraid to tell the many people who might laugh at him or judge him, but he's going to know his parents aren't going to laugh, or get angry, or judge, and that we want him to be exactly who he is.  And he won't be afraid to tell us, whatever it is.

My son is almost 7.  He's just entering the endless part of life where what other people think, and what society has decided is ok and not ok for him to do will begin to affect his thoughts, his opinions, and how he feels about himself deep inside.

It is my goal - my mission - my obligation - to make sure he knows that whatever the world thinks of him, at home he is accepted exactly as he is.  And hopefully, to make sure he can accept himself as he is and love himself in a way that so many of us struggle to achieve.  That he can go on to be himself and not change because he's feeling pressured to change.

It's just nail polish.  Except that it's not - it's what I want my son to know summed up in his glittery blue nails: You are You.  We love you for you.  Don't ever be afraid to be you, no matter what anyone else says.

It's not just nail polish.  It's a message in a bottle.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What I Need You To Know About That Mean Kid at School

This post has been coming for a while, and I have run over the words in my head a hundred times.  The best I can do is to just try to get it out.

My kid can act like a real jerk.  Not long ago we had a message from the school that a kid he rides with on the bus told her mother my son threatened her.  There's no defending it - he said it.  He didn't mean it, and he would never do it, but he told a girl on the bus he was going to beat her up.  I was horrified, not just because it's an awful thing for my son to say - and it is - but also because I know exactly what other people will think of him when they hear this.

I can imagine what it's like to be the parents of that child who comes home and says there is a bully on the bus.  I would be upset, angry, I would be writing to the principal just as this mother did. I would be worried for my child and I would be thinking this kid on the bus must be awful, a real monster, a little shit.

A little shit.  I've heard many people refer to children that way, kids who behave badly, kids who can be mean, kids who get angry easily, kids who threaten.

That little shit is my son.  He's 7.

Sometimes, after an incident where he has said something or done something wrong, he cries and tells me he wishes he wasn't alive.  That he is bad and should never have been born.

Sometimes he feels so bad inside he doesn't know how to express it, and I don't know why.  And I don't think he knows why either.

He's just a little boy.

He's insecure and he doesn't know how to deal with his emotions.  He has some behavioural problems, and we are working on them.

He's my baby, I am his mother.

I sometimes cry with frustration and sadness at my inability to figure out what's going on in his head, why he lashes out, why he says awful things.  I read, I research, and I try, and I struggle, and I cry because I know there are parents who think he's a little shit and I'm failing.  Maybe I am failing.  But I'm trying.

My little boy is an insecure child who desperately wants to be liked, but sometimes thinks no one likes him, that he's not good enough somehow.  He tries to put on a tough front, but he doesn't understand how that looks to grown-ups living in our culture of fear that a bully might target our child.  He doesn't get how his attempts to look cool are making him less likely to be liked.

I get it.  No child should be afraid of another child at school.  My son has no right to act the way he does.  It's not ok.  I promise you we are working on it.  I know there are parents out there who probably aren't stepping up to do something about the way their kids act, but please don't jump to that conclusion.  Please don't assume every parent whose child acts out has their head in the sand, doesn't care, is a bad parent who is ok with their kid being a bully.

I want you to know that he is not a bully.  He doesn't want to hurt or harass anyone, or to make anyone's life miserable.  He's not a bad kid, deep inside.  He has a huge heart.  I have seen him give things away to make other people happy, I have seen him cry when he thought he hurt someone he loves.  I see every day the kindness that is in him, the love, the heart.  I know you don't see that.  I wish you did.

He can be so sweet. He loves hugs and snuggles.  He loves his dog, his mommy, his blankie.  He's 7.

I get that it hurts your heart as a mother to hear that another kid is being mean to your kid.  I get that you want something to be done.  I want to promise you that I am doing something.

It hurts my heart to know that you think my child is a mean little shit.  It hurts me to know you have a reason to feel that way.  I need you to know he's not a bad kid, just one who has some problems and struggles, as we all do, and who doesn't always do the right thing.

All I ask is that you please stop and remember, when you hear tales of a child who is being mean at school, that he or she is just a little kid.  That there is a mom who loves that kid as much as you love yours.  That there is more to the story.

Please, take a moment to consider how much it hurts to hear a child like mine called a horrible name, or spoken of like he deserves retaliation.  Kids who are struggling with behavioural problems don't need or deserve retaliation.  They need our support, help, and love.

And as their parents, we could use some of that support too.  Because just like you, we didn't get a manual, and just like you, we're doing our best.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Internal Dialogue of the Insomniac, or, Why I Don't Sleep

I have had insomnia all my life.  It comes and goes in waves - sometimes I sleep ok, sometimes I go days on end without sleeping more than a few hours.  Sometimes, when I get up in the morning exhausted, there's an obvious reason.

One of the kids was sick and I spent the night alternately cleaning up puke and trying to sleep with a child in my bed who never stops moving.

One of the kids had a nightmare and climbed into bed with me and wouldn't stop moving.

One of the kids has a horrible cough that, even though they somehow seem to actually sleep through it, keeps me awake all night.

One of the get it.

But most of the time, there is no obvious reason why I didn't get any sleep last night, and it will send me into convulsions of annoyance if I am asked why I didn't get any sleep.  So, in the interest of explaining - without really explaining, since it doesn't truly make sense in the end - I've given an example of the sequence of mental events that results in one very tired and one very cranky mom at 6 am.  This will be presented in the form of a dialogue between two voices in my head.  For the record, there aren't really voices in my head.  Well, not much.

Voice 1: Ok, lights out!  So tired, time for sleep!
Voice 2: Did you make the lunches, set the coffee maker, gather the library books, and turn off the oven?
Voice 1: Yes.
Voice 2: Are you sure?
Voice 1: Yes.
Voice 2: ARE YOU SURE?
Voice 1: no.  (get up and check)

Voice 1: Ah, all taken care of, now to sleep!
Voice 2: Hey, remember that incident from two years ago that you were really upset about and spent a long time trying to get over?  Remember that?  Let's think about that and go over everything that happened in minute detail.
Voice 1: This is pointless, let's stop thinking about it and go to sleep.
Voice 2: You know what awesome thing you could have said that would have made you feel so much better about the whole situation?  (several really awesome comebacks)
Voice 1: Sigh.

Voice 1: Ok, ok, I've been in bed for over an hour, I really need to get some sleep.
Voice 2: OR - let's think about extremely improbable ways in which the kids could get maimed or killed, creating such awful images that there's no way you can fall asleep until they are cleared from recent memory.
Voice 1: What can I think about to get those images out of my head?
Voice 2: I have some ideas!

Voice 1: Why is the bed suddenly so uncomfortable?
Voice 2: Try lying on your left.
Voice 2: Ok try your right.
Voice 2: Try your back.
Voice 1: Ok, now I'm kind of comfortable (foot starts itching unbearably)  Well, now it's not comfortable anymore.
Voice 2: Try lying on your stomach.

Voice 1: If I fall asleep now I can still get 4 hours of sleep.
Voice 2: Ok, ok.

Voice 2: Did you hear that?
Voice 1: Hear what?
Voice 2: That weird noise!
Voice 1: It was the dog.
Voice 2: Maybe.  Or maybe there is a vicious intruder in the house about to come up the stairs and murder everyone.  (stare at open doorway for a while, alternately dozing off and waking up to stare again just in case)

Voice 2: Are you asleep???
Voice 1: Well I was close.
Voice 2: I just wanted to share my concerns regarding that conversation you had with *random person* yesterday.  It's very possible you said something stupid.
Voice 1: Oh god, you're right.  I should go over that whole conversation for the fifth time to be sure.

Voice 1: If I fall asleep now, I can still get 3 hours of sleep.
Voice 2: Tomorrow is going to suck.
Voice 1: I'm wide awake.
Voice 2: Is that the dog snoring?

Voice 1: Mumbles incoherently.
Voice 2: I bet someone is going to ask why you didn't sleep last night.