parent politic

I've been reading a lot about structure. 

Structure, in the context of my three-and-a-half-year-old, is making sure that he understands the basic boundaries of safety and acceptability in his world. 

It is his job to strain the harness, buck the saddle, test the fences, drive with unstoppable force toward what he needs, that second. 

what is,
"to run away from mommy
and sit on the stoop
after mommy said wait a second"
alex?

It is my job to hold the harness, replace the saddle, mend the fences, and lay a gentle hand on his shoulder when I say, "No. It is my job to keep you safe and remind you to be kind. That isn't okay. That isn't how we roll. Let me tell you why."

I have found that he's usually pretty amenable, if I take the time to wait out the tantrum/storm, and then kindly explain why he may not:

a) tell his little brother to "get out of here," or push him out of the room, just because he's smaller

b) take food off of someone else's plate

c) play with the fishing net that he has already used to rap the skulls of every member of the family

d) tell me which chair I'm allowed to sit in at the table

e) call someone "stupey"


When I say that he's "usually pretty amenable" I mean this conversation:

Chicken: But I'm not saying stupid mommy.

Me: But it's close enough. I know what you mean when you say "stupey," and that is not a kind word.

Chicken: But it has an "ee" in it, not an "id."

Me: If I called out "Chickee" would you know who I was talking to?

Chicken: Yes...

Me: OK, then you can't call someone stupey. At least not out loud. You can say it in your head all you want. But if you say it out loud you could really hurt someone's feelings. "Stupid" is a very hurtful thing to call someone.

Chicken: Oh, I see. 

See? OMG parenting is so easy.
And with that, I award myself an A+ for parenting. 
I stood my ground. 
I was calm, clear-headed, and articulate.
He said, "oh, I see."
I made him see.
(gives self an exploding fist bump that turns into a glorious jazz-fingers firework)

Three minutes later Chicken looks me dead in the eye and says, with a little smirk:

"Stupey."

That's the danger of insisting too hard on anything with my Chicken, or any three-year-old - make it too interesting, and he will intentionally transgress again, just to get in a scuffle with the border patrol. Just to keep things exciting. He's like those activists who drive around Arizona with their iPhones surreptitiously recording, hoping they will have the chance to ask a US Border Protection Officer "why did you stop me?" or "am I free to go?" Or like Chicken and Buster, screaming at each other with their eyes locked on me, to see what I'll do.

Chicken: But I'm not saying stupid mommy.

Me: We have already talked about this. It's not okay to say that word. I know what you mean when you say "stupey," and that is not a kind word.

Chicken: But it has an "ee" in it, not an "id."

Me: Mm hmm, but again, and we've already talked about this, it's close enough that everyone knows what you mean. If I offered you macaronid for dinner, you would know what I meant, right?

Chicken: Yes...

Me: OK, then you can't call someone stupey. Not ever. Got it?

Chicken: Oh, I see. 

The second time I give myself an A. Solid A.
I stood my ground.
I was calmish, clear-headed, and articulate, if a little snappy.
He said, "oh, I see."
I MADE him see.
(gives self high five secret handshake that includes a palm swipe and locky-fingers)



"Stupey."

That's the danger of getting emotional, even if the issue is an emotional one. When you let blood, it stains. And when you return again and again to the same blood-drenched battle ground, your body remembers to fight and your mouth remembers to snarl, and sooner or later you realize that you're fighting for no other reason that this is the mode of communication that you have both agreed upon, in this place, over and over again, over days, weeks, months, years. It feels right.

Chicken: But I'm not saying stupid mommy.

Me: Yes you are. You know you are. I'm not going to explain this to you again.

Chicken: But it has an "ee" in it, not an "id."

Me: You know what I'm about to say, right?

Chicken: Yes...

Me: OK, if you say that word one more time you are going to your room.

Chicken: Oh, I see. 

Okay, I'm getting mad.
That conversation was a B. Soft B.
I stood my ground. Or maybe, dug in.
I'm pretty pissed. And I've stopped explaining anything except that I've already explained it.
Plus, you know, I drew a line in the sand. 
I basically dared him to say it again.
We can all see where this is going, right?
Yeah.
We can all see. 
(gives self the sign of the cross)



"Stuuuuuuu..........................................
po."

As I carry him to his room he wails, "But I'm not saying stupid, Mommy!"

This is the danger of making what parents call "promises." Once you make them out loud you have to keep them. 

Or rather, you don't have to keep your promises, but when you say "if you do that one more time we are leaving," and he does it one more time and you stay, then everyone who heard and saw you knows exactly what you are. Outmatched. Undercommitted. Untrustworthy. The Loser.

There's an element of pride at play, too. When your child crosses a line and you permit it, even if you know what you're doing, even if this is part of a long-term plan, you want to prove to anyone watching that you're still the biggest dick in the room, that you call the shots. Sometimes you fight just to win, which is, I'm pretty sure, like the #1 piece of successful marriage advice that Hollywood agents give to their successful screen actor clients.

It's going to be a fight, probably a bad one. Because the hardest things to teach are the things we can't force - how to sleep, for example. When and where and with whom the word "fuck" is okay to say aloud, how to deal with a pushy kid on the playground, on your own, without Mommy. 

These traits - empathy, respect, patience, restraint - we have to model them over the course of our lives, carve them out of hard wood, curl by tiny curl. 

It would be much easier to pretend I didn't hear him or just laugh it off - he'll grow out of it. But I can't help but imagine him as a swarthy second-grader, pushing knob-kneed nerds off the swings and braying "what a stupey!" Or, a few decades later, this:


1. this is the only candidate-specific political opinion i will express in this blog post
2. i intentionally went looking for a picture of donald trump that did not look like he was about to bite the head off of a live ferret and the first ten to twelve pictures did not meet my standards
3. donald trump has a well-established habit of name-calling and belittling fellow candidates and other persons of note with such words as "loser" "dope" "hater" "shrew" "ugly" you know what just google donald trump name calling and settle in with a bottle of jack.
4. name calling is for insecure bullies who need to make sure everyone's laughing harder at someone else


Some things are worth fighting for.

Which brings us to the election year.

I'm raising my sons with an eye to their eventual freedom. Piece by piece they'll acquire the documentation they need to sign their own names to things, and someday they will live a house without a scrap of paper that bears a signature line for "guardian." 

I hope they'll call, of course, and honestly, live next door. But I'm trying to raise them to be free, and kind, and capable with their freedom. Which is why I fight with them so fucking much right now.

That's the danger of freedom - to be kind in a free state demands one of two things, innate virtue or virtue forced by transparency. Doesn't matter to me which one I get - virtue is as virtue does. Frankly, I love me a good virtue forced by transparency. On hard days, I always take the kids out in public. I am a way better parent when people are watching. I wish I had a hoodie with an 800-number on the back - "How's my Parenting?" Not really. Jesus, that is a terrible idea. Really just the worst idea ever. 

This year I'm more aware than ever of the trap of the prepackaged politician - here's this guy's stance on immigration, here's that lady's opinion on Russia - they come to us locked-up, polished and consistent, all their incongruous ingredients blended smooth and then hermetically sealed. Like Kozy Shack pudding packs.

I've forgotten that these politicians are, like all of us, grown-up toddlers. They test the fences. They drive with unstoppable force for their heart's desires. They are people in flux, people in progress, carved a bit every day by whomever is in the room with the blade, curl by curl. 

And like Chicken, when politicians cross the line, they need to hear the following, without character assassination or grandstanding, without threats and without assigning a value judgment to their worth. They need to hear,

No. 
It is my job to keep you safe and remind you to be kind.
That is not okay.
That is not how we roll.
Let me tell you why.

Pretty sure that's why the founding fathers gave us Presidents and Congress and Justices. So at any given time there is one voice in the room that can say:

You may not:

a) tell your little brother to "get out of here," or push him out just because he's smaller. Same goes for a bunch of other people too: black people, brown people, Muslim people, women people, gay people, trans people, really just all people.

b) take food off of someone else's plate, or funding from public schools to pay Blackwater or bank executive bonuses.

c) play with the fishing net that you have already used to rap the skulls of every member of the family, or insist that you still want to buy and bring home and keep under your bed military assault weapons that have already been used to murder thousands and thousands and thousands of innocent people.

d) tell me which chair I'm allowed to sit in at the table, or what I'm allowed to put in my body to keep myself from getting pregnant, or what I'm allowed to take out of my body if I do get pregnant.

e) call someone "stupey." Or loser. Or ugly. Or terrorist, or illegal, or baby murderer, or really anything that isn't their name.

There's a danger in insisting too hard on anything with this government - we're designed to be adversarial, and once the debates get too interesting, the story shifts from the fucking point to the skirmish. Public figures transgress again and again, just to get in a scuffle with the border patrol, just to have something to put in a mailer, just to keep things trending.  Make no mistake - they're screaming at each other but their eyes are locked on you. They want to see what you'll do.

There's a danger in getting emotional, even if the issue is an emotional one. When you let blood, it stains. And when you return again and again to the same blood-drenched battle ground, your body remembers to fight and your mouth remembers to snarl, and sooner or later you realize that you're fighting for no other reason than it's Thanksgiving and we've all had tee many martoonis. 

There's a danger in making what politicians call "promises." Once you make them out loud you have to keep them.  

"We will not confirm any nominee..." 
"We will utterly destroy our enemies..." 
"We will send everyone to college for free..."

Keep your promises, or bear the scarlet F of a fucking flip-flopper. Good God, you can't even change your mind or everyone who heard and saw you knows exactly what you are. Ambitious. For Sale. Flaky. The Loser.

This election is going to be a fight, probably a bad one. Because the hardest things to require of our leaders are the things we can't ever really measure - integrity, humanity, perspective, the low blows they don't dole out.

These traits - empathy, respect, patience, restraint - we have to demand them, carve them out of hard wood, curl by tiny curl. 

It would be much easier to stop reading the news or just laugh it off - it's one President. How bad can things get? 

But I can't help but imagine my country as a barrel-chested second-grader, pushing knob-kneed European countries and potential Middle East allies off the swings and braying "what a stupey!" 

Or, a few decades later... who can say.

Some things are worth fighting for.

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