Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mixed messages

The other day one of my children (youalreadyknowwhoitis:Sullivan) wore his shirt backwards to school. It wasn't a generic t-shirt, mind you. It's important to clarify, because I want you to get the image right in your head. It was a bold-blue collared shirt. Imagine a stiff collar sticking upright in front of Sullivan's throat. He looked reverently priestlike and flamboyantly idiotic all at once. I don't care how clueless 2nd graders generally are... NObody could've missed this wardrobe malfunction.

Now, Sullivan is Sullivan: dreamy, marcher to the beat of a-drummer-nobody's-ever-heard-of, careless, uninterested in 99% of the details of life but obsessively rigid about the 1%. Shirt appropriation, clearly, falls in the 99%.

I am all about my kids doing their own thang with their clothes. Ain't nobody got time for outfit planning four kids. (Correction: Three kids...I do dress Campbell - BUT ONLY CUZ SHE'S ONE I'M CUTTING HER OFF NEXT YEAR - and she is dang cute **most** of the time).

I'm getting to my point.


I mentioned to Sullivan on the way to school that he had his shirt on backwards and...would he like to take a moment in the van before running out the door to school to switch it around?? I got the rushed, "No, no." Like I often do, which always sends the signal, "I got bigger junk going on in this here head... I can't be bothered with these ridiculously petty concerns."

Out into the world he went...

As is normal for me, I moved right on with my day. Didn't think a thing of it. And there he was at pick up, 6 hours later, looking the exact same way.

I slept great that night.

I happened to have a check-in meeting the following day with one of the teachers pulling him for special services. The meeting was hugely informative and helpful. But I'm not writing about the meeting. I'm writing about society. And this teacher, let's call her Zelda, started out our time together, asking tenderly, "So... Did you know Sullivan was wearing his collared (there it is, again) shirt backwards yesterday?"

I answered that yes I did.

And I coulda stopped there, but I still seek approval and want to appear competent, so - for good measure - I added in cheerfully, "I asked the little guy if he wanted to switch it around before school and he was resistant!" (Can you hear me being cheerful?)

I smiled. And so she smiled. And then she stopped smiling, lowered her voice, and said, It's just that... I didn't want him to... You know...get made fun of."

Zelda is a rock star special Ed teacher, and I know that she totally loves my son. And she is totally tuned in to elementary school culture. And wanted to have Sullivan's back on this topic...

So know that Zelda and I are 100% cool.

But it got me all tripped up inside...

It just so happens that, additionally, I have had a couple mom friends share with me on recent ocassipns that they are worried their kids will get made fun of for this reason or that one. So, there it keeps coming round...this question of how and in what way we out to redirect our kids' choices or behaviors in order for them to be spared teasing.

And it seems to me we are looking at it all wrong.

Especially, ESPECIALLY, when we are simultaneously shoving messages about inner strength and individuality and approval-seeking only from within DOWN THEIR THROATS. At home (we love you exactly as you are), in books (to thine own self be true), on inspirational posters (be yourself, everyone else is taken), from the counselor at school (I don't know what the hell she tells them, but I imagine the previous three examples smushed together). We feed them this. And then we contradict it with subtleties, "You're going to wear that with that?" "Maybe it's time to look at how the other kiddos do their hair" "Have you noticed kids looking at you funny when you say ___ or ___?" "You gotta turn that shirt around, or else you might get teased." They pick up on these inconsistencies. They hear: Be yourself, but if that's too far different, reign that shit back in." Or at the very least, "Learn what it means to be same, learn what it means to be same. Learn what it means to be same. Then follow that. It's your (and everybody else's) due north"

The question in my mind isn't, HOW DO WE GET OUR KIDS AROUND being made fun of??  It's HOW DO WE PREPARE THEIR HEARTS for when it actually does happen?? Cuz, let's face it, when it comes to getting made fun of... Or, to take malicious intent out of it... When it comes to just benign unwanted attention... It's not a matter of IF it will happen in a child, adolescent, adult, or senior citizen's life, it's WHEN.

So, back to Sullivan's shirt. Sullivan being Sullivan, his wearing it backwards wasn't a statement of self-ness, knowing and understanding the convention of front-wearing shirt society and consciously choosing "other". It is very very very likely, just as he noticed for the first time the other day which door we are talking about when we say "front" door (vs. the back one), that Sullivan's ineptitude for detail combined with comprehension issues and a dreamy noggin left him fully unaware about how he had dressed.

Now that's different than indifferent.

The way I see it, there're three ways one arrives in the space of "different," the space of not comfortable:

We have:


The first is the most-awesome-feeling vehicle for finding oneself in the space of "different." NOT HARD to own being different when you were the driver who got yourself to that place. I just finished a weekend in New York City, where convention is nowhere to be found, or at least the worship of it is smaller, quieter...and people wear what they want, say what they want, sing that they want when they want to, and the hair. THE HAIR! So many colors, lengths, styles, smells... Backwards shirts here are tame. And the people wearing them, and anything else I perceived as CRAZY, just straight up don't care. Uninterested. In. Convention.

But then there's the other two: UNAWARE and UNABLE. These guys are trickier vehicles in which to arrive at the space "different", because most of the time an individual didn't really plan to arrive there. They just arrived, sorta without choice. And may not like that they did. That doesn't feel good. At least not the first few times. It takes mucho practice being good with where you are when you find yourself in a spot you didn't plan on going.



Not how to avoid arriving at different when you want to. Not how to avoid arriving at different when you DIDNT want to. How to be ok with different, even comfortable with it and familiar with it and mushed up against it, regardless of what got you there. Because it's GONNA FREAKING HAPPEN. And. IT WILL DRAW ATTENTION. That's how emerging homosapiens developing language decided on the definitions to those antonyms. SAME: other cavemen don't look at you. DIFFERENT: other cavemen look at you. Attention is an accompaniment to different. It just is.

UNAWARE is what Sullivan was with his shirt example. Unaware is what I was when, at my 8th grade graduation ceremony when I was called to the stage to speak and I was dressed to the nines in a brand new royal blue form fitting dress that made me feel me and beautiful and wearing my first pair of short little heels, it was called to my attention that I was dragging 4 to 25 squares of toilet paper behind me, lead square stuck to the base of the high heel of my right shoe. If I had had the choice between no toilet paper trail and toilet paper trail on that day, I DEF woulda gone with no. But I arrived at different via unaware. And it was practice. (PS. That's about all I can scrounge up about that memory but I am guessing an additional detail might have been a flushed face... But no teasing, no meanness...I  moved through that experience unscathed...again, practice!)

Now I'm gonna give you an UNABLE example. I was having a conversation with my father in law about his childhood experience of bullying. He has talked of it in general terms before, but I now was pulling out specifics... When I asked what his antagonizers did, he said they mainly threw his books out the window or tripped him in the hallway... No physical brauls or fights, per say. When I asked him what he can recall was the onset of his unfortunate position in middle school as "the kid who gets picked on," he didn't pause. He remembers in gym class in Jr. High the start. At that time and place, apparently, athleticism for a boy was a convention. It was "same." So, in  gym class, the kids were tasked with cartwheels. and Ric couldn't pull out a single solitary cartwheel. The teasing began. Mastery of one's body -  the ability to run, jump, catch, and be coordinated -  for a boy in his era...well, it was everything. Ric's abilities in this area at this time were few, and so, well, he came to believe he was "few" in worth, too.

He WANTED to get those legs up. He WANTED to get the momentum to form that circular movement. He WANTED to land on his feet. He just couldn't. He was unable. He was unable to remain "same" and so he arrived at "different" kicking and screaming. Doesn't feel good for "unable" to drive you to "different." Just like the  vehicle of unaware. It doesn't feel good, that is, until it feels familiar.

So I'm done with hearing adults talk about their fear of kids getting made fun of. KIDS WILL NOT GET MADE FUN OF (ongoingly) IF SAID KIDS GET PRACTICE WITH THE DISCOMFORT OF DIFFERENT. Mean kids (or rather, kids who are acting mean because their hearts are either overly hardened or overly fragile) leave COMFORT WITH DISCOMFORT alone. They leave that invincibility syrum  alone. They don't touch COMFORT WITH DISCOMFORT  with a ten foot freaking pole. CUZ, for teasers of our society (young and old and all that is in between), it's cryptonite to their ambitions: to inflict,  then watch,  discomfort with discomfort.

So, here's the response to uninterested (or indifferent) in convention . This one's  easy:

"You don't like my ___ (hair, shoes, attitude, book, laugh, choice of snack, choice of shampoo, choice of tattoo).

Got it. I do."

Here the answer to unaware of convention :

"Holy shit! I just walked the length of that gym with a mile of toilet paper dragging behind me!" And then you hold up the strip like its a streamer and twirl it around 720 degree, but no more, because then you'd have to give your speech looking like a mummy.


"Y'all, I SUCK at dressing. I don't even remember underwear much of the time. The fact that I even HAVE a shirt on is a gift to High plains elementary school. I'm just gonna leave it."  Or replace that last statement with, "I am glad you let me know. I'll change it back at lunch."

Here's the answer to unable to meet convention :

"I'm just gonna say it. Cartwheels. Aren't. My. Thing. I could practice till I'm purple in the face and mine wouldn't look even close to your beauties. But you oughta see me in math class. I can work it there."

So that's what I'm gonna focus on in my parenting: Teaching my kids how to gracefully encounter and mush up next to the disomfort of different, NO MATTER  HOW THEY EACH INEVITABLY ARRIVE THERE...  Press right up against it  and have  so much practice with it until it doesn't feel uncomfortable that it holds no power over them.  I'm gonna redirect  all my time and my breath from  teaching them how to avoid the moving target of adolescent and teenage conventions to  role playing and rehearsing and conversating about and grinding in  this lesson of comfort with discomfort. SO that if/when they choose "same," it's because they truly want it, not because they are avoiding its opposite...

OR listening to their parent.


Love and Laughter said...

I love reading your blogs. You are doing a great job with motherhood. Even though I don't get to see you often enough… Please know I love you and I am proud of you. Keep up the great work.

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