As a boy, it’s interesting listening to Erin and Kristin talk about raising boys. Even though they sometimes drift into their She-Woman-Man-Haters-Club schtick, they touch on a point of interest for me: the gender bias in education. The bias is the result of many overlapping and intersecting factors, but whatever the cause, as the parent of a boy, it’s a concern.
It also raises an interesting point about my own early schooling. One of my former classmates recently started a group for our elementary school on Facebook and people have been posting class photos, and looking through the years, I am reminded that we had a balanced mix of male and female teachers. Because our class was always so large that we were split between two teachers, I ended up only having one of the male teachers, but they did share in my teaching since we would switch between classrooms for various topics, all go on field trips together, and so forth.
Speaking of school pictures can we talk for a moment about child clothing fashions from the 70’s? OK, that’s a whole ‘nother story, but those clothes…I’m just sayin’.
Maybe having that male presence in school made the difference, but maybe not, since I was only at school seven hours of the day. Greater influences were Mom and Dad, who were so
worn down experienced from raising my five older siblings that they gave me some latitude to be myself, even if that meant I wasn’t following the pursuits they would have chosen for me. It wasn’t so much a matter of letting boys be boys, but of people are people.
Yes, I did regular boy things–I played army, loved playing and watching sports and listened to far too much heavy metal and punk rock–but I also loved theater, writing poetry and cooking and baking. Mom and Dad met me wherever I was–at the soccer field or in the kitchen–no matter what their personal preferences were for me.
Beyond that, they would extend themselves to learn about my interests or behavior, which they did for all of us kids. After Mom died, Brother #2 discovered a Townes Van Zandt CD on top of her stereo cabinet. He knew that he had recently mentioned Van Zandt to Mom, and so she must have gone right out and bought the album and listened to it. Part of Mom’s reason for doing that was that she always loved music, but another part was that she loved her son and wanted to hear what he was hearing.
Other than asking once if I wouldn’t rather be an economics major–I’m sorry, have you forgotten all of my math grades from high school?–they consistently supported my interests, to the point of driving to Montana to see a show that I was production manager for. OK, it wasn’t hard to convince Mom to come, since the show was in Glacier National Park, but still, she came. Likewise, when she came to visit me in Colorado, Mom hiked up to the Devil’s Causeway, even though a thunderstorm was threatening.
This all required not insignificant efforts from Mom–Dad died before most of this happened–but she kept at it for me and my five siblings. Similarly, I’ve had to make efforts to meet 3B where he is–how many times can I play jump around before I puke? how many times can I say, “don’t put that truck/lovie/fiddle in your butt” while I’m changing his diaper? how many times can I ask him to put his coat on because it’s colder than…well, it’s really cold outside, only to have him say, “I want to be cold”?
The answer is, endlessly, because while it’s sort of funny to complain about and yes, sometimes mildly irritating or nauseating to me, it’s who 3B is, and I love him.
However, all of these efforts require us parents to set aside part of ourselves, to get uncomfortable and to give up our way of doing things to do them the way someone else does. None of that is easy. My small efforts haven’t been easy, and I can’t imagine what it takes to do something like drop a child off at college and drive hundreds of miles away, leaving my child in the company of hundreds of hormonal strangers. But, I hope that by the time I get to that point, it will be an incremental change, not the revolution that it appears to be now.
I also don’t know what it’s like to be a woman raising a boy, but it broke my heart to hear the Manic Mommies talking about never having understood boys, not understanding boys now, and likely never understanding boys–that they would just have to learn to tolerate them.
I’m not saying that parents have to remake their personalities in the form of their children’s, but it seems to me that there could be some more flexibility. For god’s sake, we make our kids sit still, stay quiet, mind their manners, follow the rules and take endless car trips during which they’re strapped in place for hours on end. Is it asking so much that we try to meet them where they are, do what they want to do? That we try out what they’re doing, even if it stretches us out a little?
I used to respond to 3B’s requests for me to play the guitar by saying that “Daddy doesn’t know how to play the guitar. Mommy does.” And that would always take the wind out of his sails, mid-concert. Finally, one day I said, “OK,” grabbed the guitar and started strumming away just like he does, and he loved it. Now I play with 3B whenever he asks, although these days he’s becoming more of a solo act, and I love it as much as he does, even though I still am the Mayor of Suckville on the guitar.
I assume that if we have a girl next, I’ll be out of my comfort zone more often, but I hope that I’d embrace that and get beyond it, just like I hope the Manic Mommies can get past their discomfort with their boys, which probably has something to do with the fear of the unknown, just like my unease with guitar playing did. As I biked up and down the trail to the ranger station in Colorado that I lived in for a summer, I came up with some axioms based on mountain biking. One of them is that the only way through fear to to go through it and come out the other side.
Sure, you may end up sliding off the edge of the trail, down the mountain toward the waterfall, scrabbling for handholds and trying to snap your shoes out of the pedals, but you’ve gotten through your fear. Now that your fear is behind you, the world is open to you once again…granted that you survive, that is.
What about you? How do your kids challenge your sense of self?