Tag Archives: boys

Raising boys – 10 things they don’t tell you

The Taz on a ferry ride to visit Alcatraz earlier this year.

(A shorter version of this post will print in the Press Democrat on June 15th)

I grew up in a family of three girls. My dad was good-natured about it, inviting us along to magical places like “the dumps” and the racetracks at Sears Point (now Infineon). And he merely stepped over our Barbie shoebox hotels that lined the hallway. He got us into sports like soccer, took us for hikes in the hills, and taught us how to get back up when our horse bumped us off the saddle. We learned how to mow the lawn, muck out a barn, and pull out loose nails from the deck. I love that my dad instilled in us a few rough and tumble characteristics so that none of us could be classified as “girly girls”.

I always wondered if my dad wished he’d also had a son to pass on some of his knowledge. In a way, he got his wish when his grandson, aka Taz, was born 11.5 years ago. And I got a first course lesson in what it was like to raise a boy – not a simple feat when I was only accustomed to being around girls.

Mysterious pee puddles. Potty talk. Lego landmines. There are many things I think “they” purposely forget to tell you when you have a boy. So let me share a few of the things I learned over the years.

1. Look before you step – particularly around the toilet. Little (and big) boys are not the best at aiming, if you get my drift. It only took several moments of soaking wet socks after a late night visit to the bathroom to master the fine art of sitting down without my feet touching the ground. More than that, though, is when your potty training toddler discovers that his equipment is portable. You can thank his dad for teaching him this neat trick, especially when you find him “watering” your plants.

2. Legos are both a blessing and a curse. Little boys can spend hours fitting those colorful little blocks together to create buildings, cars, or towers. The Taz still keeps a huge box of Legos around for those moments when videogames aren’t accessible (i.e. taken away). But careful, those tiny little blocks are lethal. The smallest Lego has the ability to camouflage itself within the carpet and then attack your bare foot when you’re least expecting it. You haven’t experienced pain until you’ve landed on a Lego landmine.

3. Speaking of videogames – don’t. What I mean is, hold off until you can’t hold off any longer. It may seem like a cute idea to buy your son his first video game so that the two of you can travel through mushroom land with Mario and Luigi. But it stops being cute when your son is hunkered down in his room with a pallid TV screen tan at 2 am, trying to mass murder as many zombies as he can while the screen turns red from their gore.

4. Keep your house well stocked with Costco-sized portions of food. Don’t believe me? Just wait till your son goes through his first growth spurt and is furtively shoveling a whole box of cereal into his mouth in between bites from his ½ pound ham sandwich. But there’s an even bigger reason why your snack cabinet needs to stay full. Around the teenage years, boys particularly forget the fine art of communication – meaning, they stop talking to you. If you want to know what your son is up to in his life, you’re going to want to know who he’s hanging out with. Boys will go where the best food is. Make that be YOUR house. Even if your son only speaks to you in grunts and eye rolls, you have a better chance of knowing what he’s up to if your pad is the hangout spot for all his friends.

5. Potty talk happens. Just go with it.

6. Boys can make a weapon out of anything. I have a friend who refused to allow her boys to have anything that resembled a gun, not even water guns. She allowed trucks and stuffed animals, and even threw in a couple dolls for good measure in an attempt at gender-neutral parenting. But it wasn’t until her son had chewed his toast into the shape of a gun and was making rapid-fire sounds at the breakfast table that she realized that weapon play was unavoidable.

7. Boys are different from girls. They don’t sit still. They prefer wild and crazy over calm and sane. They want to jump and run around instead of sitting in a desk for hours. Celebrate the differences in your son by not expecting the same from him as you would from your daughter, and working with him in whatever way speaks to him best.

8. You will visit the ER with your son at least once in his lifetime. I’ll never forget the sound my son’s head made when he was balancing on a table in our front yard during a garage sale and fell off of it. His head hit the sidewalk with a sickening thud, resulting in a very frightening lump that grew rapidly on his temple. We packed everything up and raced to the ER. Unfortunately for us, the wait at the ER was ridiculously long. Unfortunately for the ER staff, the wait at the ER was ridiculously long. As we waited patiently to see a doctor, energetic Taz raced all over the hospital, climbing everything like a monkey with a huge goose egg on his forehead. We felt obligated to apologize to everyone in the hospital as we packed up and headed home with our lopsided but healthy toddler boy.

9. Boys can get scary angry. I mean, the kind of anger that has him wanting to hit, throw things, scream, cry, and hurt anyone in his path. Worst thing you can do? Yell back at him. Best thing you can do? Remain calm and let him get it out. If it’s hard to remain calm, leave him in his room until the storm has passed. But don’t ever try to fight him when he gets to the red-hot level of anger. By not going down in flames with him, you’ll serve as an anchor to help him pull out of his fury. And when it’s over, he may even need a hug and some love from you while the two of you work out solutions to whatever has set him off.

10. Boys love their moms a whole lot. My son has reached the pre-teen age when he appears not to need me as much as he used to. But I’m the first person he looks for in the crowd when he’s done something brilliant in baseball. He still shares with me how pretty the girl is that he has a crush on. I’m the only one he unabashedly brags to about milestones he’s passed in puberty (lol). He never fails to tell me he loves me at the end of every phone call and when I say goodnight to him at the end of the day. And when I rub his feet or give him a squeeze, he leans into me in a way that shows me I just don’t show him affection nearly enough. Until your son pushes you away, hug him every single day – more than once. Tell him you love him. Share with him how proud you are of him. Give him attention. All the love you heap on him not only builds his confidence sense of self worth, it will reflect in the way he will love when he becomes a husband and a father.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in raising a boy?

What gender lines?

A couple months ago, J Crew touched a nerve among conservatives everywhere with an emailed ad that showed a 5 year old boy having his toenails painted pink by his mother. It even inspired an article by the Culture and Media Institute titled “JCrew Pushes Transgendered Child Propoganda”. Last November, the blog Nerdy Apple Bottom became an overnight sensation as she relayed the story of her son who decided to wear a girl costume for Halloween, the parents who were appalled by the decision, and the school that finally told her it would be best if she just left.  And Mom Author Cheryl Kilodavis chronicled the life of her young son who loved to wear jewelry, sparkles, and anything pink by writing the children’s story book “My Princess Boy” – a tale about a 4 year old boy who loved things that are traditionally girly, and the teasing he endured because of it. In doing so, she not only taught others about acceptance and awareness, she also helped many other families come out with their young sons who leaned more towards dresses and make-up than trucks and war games. And she inspired a rampant debate about the appropriateness of little boys dressing as little girls. Even the Jolie-Pitt clan have unconsciously sparked a revolution on “gender-neutral” parenting when consistent photos of their ultra tomboy daughter Shiloh emerged, and the proud parents stated that Shiloh would rather be a boy than a girl – and that is was more than ok with them.

A J Crew ad sparked debate over gender lines being crossed, and is only one example of the diminishing lines concerning some parents

The truth is, while it appears the majority of the population doesn’t even bat an eye when it comes to boys who want to “act like girls”, or girls who want to “act like boys” (especially here in California), there are still many who are very uncomfortable with the idea of gender lines being virtually erased. The schools are no exception. Kids, who are used to a certain mold for people to fit into, might not be so easily accepting of those who are different from them. This includes boys who want to dress like girls, or girls who would rather play with boys, and other behaviors that blur those gender lines – and could get them seriously hurt by someone wishing to teach them a lesson about what’s considered “normal”.

This is what caused an Oakland school to take on a very unique lesson in the classroom to teach about differences in others – specifically about gender characteristics and how it differs in everyone.

Were you aware of animals that can actually change their gender when it proves to be more convenient? How about the fact that some genders of animals actually take on the characteristics of the opposite gender? Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland has pioneered a program developed by Gender Spectrum. Using the animal kingdom, as well as a discussion about colors, clothes, toys, and other things that might be dedicated to only boys or only girls, the school is giving lessons in gender identity and expression – and hoping to tackle stereotypes and prejudices. The underlying lesson stressed is that “color is color”, “toys are toys”, and “activities are activities”. This program was introduced at the kindergarten level to help quash future bullying, as well as to help students thrive in an environment they may have been teased in otherwise.

However, some parents are voicing their concern over this, stating that this program is actually creating gender confusion, and even that these lessons are something that should be taught at home – not at school. And many of these parents were outraged that, while sex education requires a permission slip from parents, their children were being taught about these kinds of differences without any kind of permission needed. The Pacific Justice Institute (a law firm that specializes in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties) even encouraged parents to keep their kids home on the days these lessons would be taking place in an article they placed on their site, warning that the program was teaching that there are more than two genders, and that the teachings are not in line with the values of most Oakland families. While the school maintains that there are no lessons being given in sexual orientation, it’s insinuated by those opposing that introducing topics of boys wearing girls clothing or playing with dolls appears borderline on discussing transgendered individuals – and moving into topics of homosexuality.

On that note, have you heard about what’s going on over in Tennessee?  Students and teachers are prohibited from talking about homosexuality from kindergarten to 8th grade. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, legislators claim that since homosexual unions don’t naturally reproduce children, it’s an inappropriate topic for the classroom and should only be discussed at the family’s discretion. And while I can see that topics on any kind of sexual activity might not be a discussion to introduce to a kindergartener, I still find this rather disturbing. What of the 6 year old who has gay parents? What kind of message is this sending to them if they are not allowed to talk about the fact that they have two mommies or two daddies? What about the 7th grader who knows that it’s unsafe to come to their parents about their curiosity or knowledge that they are in fact gay, and are being told they can’t go to their teacher either?

And what kind of lesson are we giving to kindergarteners when we aren’t teaching them tolerance – that some boys like to wear dresses, that some girls like to cut their hair really short, that boys in ads wearing toenail polish is actually ok? When this world is built on diversity, when we’re doing our damndest to tackle the rising epidemic of bullying that is plaguing our schools, when it’s a major concern that there are students who have killed themselves because of the natural differences that lie inside them – why would any parent fight a program that teaches acceptance of those that are different than you…or that it really is ok to not be cut from the same mold as everyone else.

When did teaching about tolerance become wrong?

Thank god parents like Apple Nerdy Bottom, the mom of the “Princess Boy”, and the mom of the pink toenail polish wearing kid exist – so that they can put the message out there that being unique and unwilling to live by everyone else’s standards isn’t so uncommon after all.  Perhaps lessons like the ones being taught at Oakland’s Redwood Heights Elementary School will be deemed normal one day, as well.

Boys and fighting

“I think my son is going to get in a fight,” my friend, Teri, confided in me the other day.

“Seriously?” I asked her. “How would you know?”

“He told me.”

She then explained the very honest conversation she shared with her son a couple days ago.

There’s a kid in Derek’s 4th grade class who is bigger and tougher than all the other kids. We’ll call him Big Turk. And he is constantly challenging the other kids to a fight. Apparently it was Derek’s turn the other day. One of Big Turk’s friends walked up to Derek and got his attention.

“So, do you think you could beat Big Turk in a fight?” And to this, Derek just shrugged his shoulders.

“Mom, I think I agreed to a fight,” Derek said in a small voice as he relayed the story on the way home.

Teri was floored and didn’t know how to react. She wanted to drive straight to the school and report this kid to the principal. And privatetly she wanted to corner this kid who was potentially bullying her son and his classmates.  But in reality she knew she couldn’t. First of all, there was no proof that this kid had challenged her son to a fight. Second, any meddling she did to protect her son would ultimately end up targeting him even more. Third, he was at an age where he needed to learn how to handle this without having his mom there to save him.

“Couldn’t you just tell him that you have no problem with him, so you don’t feel the need to fight him?” she asked Derek.

“But I do have a problem with him,” Derek said. And that’s when it suddenly occurred to Teri what was going on.

“Did you shrug your shoulders because you’re curious about what it would feel like to be in a fight?” she asked her son. He nodded “yes” sheepishly.

Why do boys fight?

At 9 years old, kids are experiencing more peer pressure than they have in the past. For many boys, there is a need to be seen as the coolest, the strongest, the one not to be messed with. Basically, they want to be the Alpha Male, the top dog among all the boys. The rewards to this position (in their minds) is that they won’t have to worry about being pushed around anymore, that girls (yes, they are starting to notice the gentle gender) will crush on them, and that they will become popular.

After all, brawn equals power.

But how do you stop the fighting? I asked one of my guy friends about this recently, and he relayed a story from his youth about a time when he was challenged to a fight by another kid. The teacher caught wind of the impending duke-out, and told the kids that if they wanted to fight, he would play ref. The result was something like a small-scale boxing match, complete with rounds and a crowd waiting to see the action. My friend and the kid got in a couple punches, and stopped by Round 2. By organizing the fight, the whole thing became stupid. And both boys had lost their feelings of anger.

Of course, what the teacher did was not only an incredibly unique (possibly brilliant) way to fizzle out a heated situation, it was potentially dangerous. And it was reminiscent of the case earlier this year when two teachers were charged with child endangerment for setting up two kids in a wrestling match because of a fight over pencils, instead of teaching them to handle it peacefully.

Teri handled it a bit differently than my friends’ childhood teacher, talking to Derek about what the reality of getting into a fight really is.

“What do you think will happen if you get into a fight?” Teri asked him.

“I don’t know,” Derek said, executing his famous shoulder shrug. “I don’t think it would be that bad.”

“The first thing that would happen is that you might get hurt. You could get a bloody nose, some scrapes and bruises, or even worse. And so would the other kid.” Derek looked unimpressed. He said he knew that he and the other kid would get hurt, and that was ok.

“And do you know how I would feel if that happened? If you got hurt, my heart would be broken. I would hate for someone to have hurt you so badly. I would be really upset with this other kid, and would have to talk to his parents about this. And what if you hurt him really badly? I don’t want you to be the cause of someone else getting hurt, and we would have to answer to his parents.” Derek looked a little more concerned, but didn’t seem convinced. “And then what do you think the school would do if they found out about this?”

“We wouldn’t be on school grounds,” Derek said. “That way we couldn’t get in trouble.” (Dear God, Teri told me, they already had it planned out.)

“Actually, that’s wrong. If you are on your way to or from school, this is still considered a school issue. The principal would call both of your parents in, you two would be in a lot of trouble, and would get suspended, if not expelled, from school,” Teri corrected him.

“I would accept whatever the consequence is,” Derek said. Teri fought the urge to shake him.

“Ok, think about this. Right now you are 9 years old. And any fight you have with another kid is most likely only going to just involve your fists, right? But do you think the fights are going to end with this one?” she asked him. He nodded “yes”. “Wrong,” Teri said. “You are going to be known as a kid who fights. And you will get into even more fights. What do you think these fights are going to look like at 14, 15, or older?”

“They’ll probably have weapons or something,” Derek said, suddenly looking scared.

“You’re right,” Teri said. “Fighting is only going to get more and more serious as you get older, and as you fight. It’s better to just not fight at all.” Derek told her that maybe he could say something at school to try and get out of it.

In the end, Teri knew that she couldn’t really stop Derek from getting into a fight if that’s what he wanted to do. She couldn’t even guarantee that her talk with him would have any impact. But all she could do was give him enough information to help him make an educated decision on which way he’d go, and hope that he would choose to take the appropriate path.

Why DO boys fight? And how would you handle something like this?

Boys Raised by Moms

When I got to work this morning, Mr. W had left a book on my desk called “Assertive Discipline for Parents”. He had been reading it, and I expressed interest in it and asked to borrow it when he was done. It was still on my desk when one of my co-workers came over and saw it. At first my co-worker joked about it, but then he mentioned that it’s actually a good subject to read up on. He brought up a lady friend of his that had to cancel their lunch date because she needed to come home and fix her son lunch. Her son’s age? Oh, he’s 18.

Single parent households are much more prominent in this day and age. And in many cases, a boy is raised by a single mom. Single moms are tough. They are the ones that wear “the pants and the skirt”, as Mr. W’s single mother says often. They are the breadwinner and the homemaker. They are the ones who are stretching a penny to make a nickel, and making a full dinner out of what’s left in a bare cabinet.

But then there is the difference between mom’s and dad’s. I have heard often that single mom’s just can’t raise a man like a father can. And as my son tunes me out after I’ve repeated instructions to him 5 times, yet jumps the first time his grandfather barks an order, I wonder if it’s true. This was why I was borrowing the book from Mr. W. I wanted to learn more effective ways to guide my son without getting into a battle of wills, or giving up altogether. And when I hear of moms coddling their perfectly capable sons, and knowing there have been many times I’ve been guilty of such myself, I wonder how differently things would be if my son had been raised by a man rather than by a woman.

What do you think? Are boys raised by single mothers bound to be less of a man than a boy raised by his father? Should boys only be raised by their fathers, and girls by their mothers? What’s the answer for single parent families?