"Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you."
-Edward "Blackbeard" Teach
There is a lot of talking in our house. It may not seem that way to some, but every single member of my household has a lot to say. Although BK (before kids) my husband and I would often spend entire days marooned in a book, we would come together and have great discussions about life, the universe and everything (usually after killing a couple bottles of wine). Our kids seemed to have picked up this torch... which is both a good and bad thing. If either of us actually have the capacity to finish a thought these days without becoming distracted or frantically searching for a noun to keep our statements from including more than one instance of the word "thing", we're not going be heard anyway.
Take Wyatt for example. He hasn't looked back after his surgery. He is still pulling himself up to a stand on every handy surface and pant leg and then learning to cruise around the furniture. He's a pro in his crib, where he can quickly walk down the length with the barest of hand holds. During all of this, he is chattering non stop. He was always a vocal baby, but now the level of communication has skyrocketed after his surgery. Oh sure, we're still teaching him how to sign, but that is having mixed results. He knows a lot more signs than he will use and at times I think he relishes this. The sign for "more" for example, in his mind, is perfectly appropriate when the fireworks are over. When Mommy is asking if he would like more to eat? No. Not unless dessert or some other particularly tasty morsel is involved and only if he initiates it. One night not too long ago, I was really pushing the issue (and probably being more than a little patronizing). "More Wyatt?" I asked, tapping the sign out. "Do you want MORE?" (another sign) while ignoring his attempts to communicate in other ways. Finally after giving me a good long stare he took his right hand, grabbed his bottom jaw and opened his mouth as far as he could. With his left, he made pointy jabby motions towards his mouth as if to say "PUT THE DAMMED FOOD IN HERE WOMAN! What don't you understand?!"
So I did. Can't argue with that.
He's also coming up with his own signs for things. You will remember that he decided that differentiating between "Daddy" and "Mommy" was pointless, so he would tap the crown of his head and made "parent" (which, incidentally, looks like this traditionally). His latest is creating a sign for "tickle", where he tents his fingers like Mr. Burns and wiggles them instead of the traditional sign where he would tickle his chin. The amount of vocalizations and different sounds that he is trying out at the moment is also a little astounding; I was on my way upstairs to have my nap before my first night shift this week and he made kissy noises by making a fish face. You can see that he prefers to express himself verbally and I can understand why; we don't use sign language to talk to each other so why the heck should he?
Our Zoe girl, at the risk of sounding like a gushing parent, is just adorable. Even when she's being rotten, she's completely edible, which makes being mad at her almost impossible. She speaks with a lisp and frequently substitutes consonants around. Her vocabulary is increasing by the day and will occasionally bust out a turn of phrase that has you a) wondering where she heard it and b) laughing hysterically at her timing. When not climbing every available surface, she is charming you with her knowledge on such diverse subjects as farm animals, pirates and cowboys. We were recently at a birthday party and while the other girls were trying to stay clean and out of the rain in their pretty dresses, she was soaked to the skin, her pants solid mud to the knees as she merrily played pirate. She's recently taken to singing all the time too, which is fun to watch. She may not know the lyrics, or the tune but she will do her very best to hum along and throw in a word here and there. She's even starting to show a little musical preference, as I've found her singing along to Stevie Nicks, Heart and Joni Mitchell. (That's my girl!) I'm not so sure about the Steely Dan, however.
We've had a different kind of conversation with Quinn lately and quite honestly, it's one that I wish didn't have to happen. We've talked about serious things in the past, like prejudice and strangers and whatnot, but none of these have threatened to steal the sunshine out of my son's eyes. This one has. We had to talk Quinn about bullying.
There was a hint of this thing earlier as during the last week of school, I was thumbing through his agenda and found that someone else had scrawled "Quinn is a fatty" and a few other things. Right now the boy looks like a bag of antlers, so I wasn't quite sure what all that was about. He mentioned that a few girls in his class didn't like him for one reason or another and quickly changed the subject. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for further issues in September and we left it alone. Flash forward to the first week of August when I broached the subject of him going to day camp for another two weeks (he had already gone for two weeks in July) and what camp would he prefer to go to? He answered my questions by stating that he wasn't sure where wanted to go to, if at all. I pressed the issue by bringing up the subject of attending the co-ed "Robin Hood" style camp that a few of his friends were going to--now that he's gotten over his fear of accidentally skewering random picnickers during archery practice--and he dropped his eyes and became rather squirmy. It took us a bit to get the full story out of him, but as it turns out, he was being bullied at camp as well. I won't get into the exact details of what happened as it is not my story to tell here. Rest assured that if I had known at the time why he was coming home so dirty, with downcast eyes that he passed off as "tired", I would have played things a lot different (and possibly consulted our local police). Now that the week was over and that group of boys dispersed, we were powerless to do much except talk to his next leader. It filled me with rage and shattered my heart at the same time. It had played out like a classical example; this had not started with physical violence originally but with verbal taunts, the most notably being "gay". It would start on the bus in the morning, continue all day and not end until he came home. It did not stay verbal for very long, either.
Last year, when he first attended day camp, he was six and in groups of 5,6, and 7 year olds. This particular week, he was in a group of 7,8 and 9 year olds and now the youngest in a radically different dynamic. At the time, Quinn did not know what they meant by calling him gay, other than they were saying something to him that was meant to be hurtful. He said it they called him this due to his liking hanging out with girls (?!) and for wearing his favorite pink shirt, the one that I tie dyed for him for anti-bullying day two years ago. This soon escalated into tripping and shoving. One afternoon, when this group made sure that his neighbourhood friend was occupied on the rock wall with the leader, they found their moment and physically attacked and humiliated him, for being "gay".
I don't know if my son is gay or not. He's seven. If he is, I will be Grand Marshall Mom at Pride. Regardless, he is a gifted, kind, generous boy who spent the better part of a year holding an anxious girl's hand at recess to make her feel better and playing "Bob Hope" to a classroom of drowsy students to keep them from completely tuning out, long after he should have done just that.
He is artistic. He is musical. He is a scientist. He is my son and is only seven years old... and some shithead bully kids with even shittier homophobic bully parents, decided to work out their rage about their shitty, angry lives on him.
My husband and I sat down with him. As my heart physically ached, we were supportive and listened to what he had to say. We then took turns talking to him in little sessions over the course of a week. We talked about bullies, we talked about why they do what they do. We explained that this was learned behaviour and it was never acceptable. We talked about how yes, you do need to tell someone and quickly, but that also includes us, not just a teacher or leader. We role played with him a bit, showing him how to spar verbally and how to end such a conversation while still standing up for himself. We also talked to him about what being gay was, how that is only an insult if you are hateful. We also told him that, as is often the case with bullies, those boys were so ignorant that they didn't even know what the word they were using meant.
We also talked to him about physically standing up for himself and when that was appropriate. I agonized over this one as I do not wish my son to become a bully any more than I want him to become a suicide or self harming statistic. The reality is, he may have to push back, he may have to punch some kid in the face as a last resort. During all of our talks, we stressed over and over and OVER to him that we would ALWAYS love him and would ALWAYS listen to him. We would always back his play as well, regardless of what anyone else would try to tell him.
There is a happy-ish ending to this story however. He's back at day camp this week with a whole new group of kids, in a group that is 6 and 7 year olds and those older boys are long gone. It is "Pirate Week" there. He is coming home with the requisite amount of dirt for a boy his age and is happy and smiling again. He has agreed to go to the co-ed camp for his last week there, now that he is sure that being around girls won't "make him gay". His self esteem is much improved and he has been bolstered with his new knowledge. School starts the day after Labour Day here, so it is just a few weeks before we see what this year will bring. Hopefully by then this ball of fear in my chest will disappear. I wish I could shake the feeling that it is here to stay. This particular discourse will not end here, as there never seems to be an end to the bully supply.
Between work and my online efforts and my family, it seems some days that the dialogue never ends. It's no wonder that I sometimes look forward to the kids' bed time or quickly switch the squawking talk-radio that my husband prefers to a music station. It's a lot for me to process at times. But, we have some great things in the wind. The conversation is just getting started here; as time will go on we will talk about a lot of things that will be difficult. There will be a lot of teenage angst, there will be boyfriends and girlfriends and all sorts of life events to explore. Right now I'll revel in my daughter's "Wook! Pie-rats! Yaaar Matey! Ahoy dere!" and Wyatt's backing "Yaaaaa!" and Quinn's resulting eye-roll. There is never a dull moment with this bunch. We'll be sayin' our piece, right and plain, for manys a long day to come. Parley or parlez as it was originally, isn't just a guideline here. It's a way of life.
|None asked, none given.|