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Boys with sticks

boy with sword 2

Several years ago, a nice family came over our house. It was partly for a social call, and partly to see if our family would do well as a daycare for their two kids when the mom went back to work. The girl was about four, and the boy was about six.

As we adults chatted, the kids explored the house. At the far end of the living room were the toys, including a tidy bucket full of weapons belonging to our sons and daughters. There were bows and arrows, swords of all kinds, scimitars, light sabers, pistols, slingshots, rifles, daggers, and machine guns. I watched a little nervously, because I knew this mom leaned progressive, and was raising her kids to be non-violent.

Her little girl immediately found a baby doll, sat down, and put the doll to bed. The little boy scuttled over to the weapons, and before I could say more than, “Um–” he had grabbed two swords and swung them, with a natural expertise, in a gleeful arc over his head.

“HAHH!” he shouted, and held that pose for a moment, swords raised. Eyes on fire, happiest boy in the world.

I slewed my eyes over to his parents, not sure what I would see. Horror? Disgust? Outrage? Dismay?

They both looked . . .  immensely relieved. “Well, there goes that,” said the dad, apparently referring to the no-weapons policy they’d followed strictly for the last six years. I tried to apologize, but they both said, “No, no, it’s fine.” And it was fine. There was no tension in the room. Their son had hands made to hold weapons, and now he had some.

I wasn’t surprised to see the boy taking so naturally to swordplay, but I was fascinated to see his parents taking so naturally to the rules of our house, which were so different from the rules in their own home.  Once their son’s unsullied hands first made contact with the weapons of war, the whole family relaxed into that reality immediately.

In this short piece in The Globe and Mail, this mom’s friends need someone to tell them what our friends realized: Hey, it’s okay if your boy wants to swing sticks around. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with him, or that he’ll inevitably grow up to be a rapist or a sociopath or a steroid-fueled abuser. There is a place for fighting boys in the world, if we let there be a place.

She says:

When I was pregnant I dreamed about the sweet, sensitive child I would have. I imagined us sitting at the table engaged in some means of creative expression, perhaps painting or writing stories. I imagined sitting quietly in the park listening to the birds and finding shapes in the clouds. But it was not to be.

My wild boy chases the birds, leaps from the park bench. He runs and jumps and yells and climbs. More than once I’ve felt pangs of envy while in the company of friends and their sweet, quiet little girls.

Before you lambast for not valuing her son, read on. It’s clear that she loves and enjoys her boy, and gives him reasonable rules: he wants to swing a stick? She tells him, “Be careful,” and leaves it at that. She says,

 I’m through apologizing for Malcolm. His wildness is not a product of permissive parenting or the negative influences of a violent TV culture. His wildness is his own, and as such I embrace it even if others do not.

But what is she supposed to do when her boy comes into contact with other boys, who are repeatedly told, “Put the stick down”?  She notes:

I have heard many open-minded parents declare: “If my son wants to play with dolls or dress up in girls’ clothes, I’m totally fine with that.” But what if your son wants to play with sticks and do battle? Are we so afraid of the power of violence to overtake us that we are uncomfortable with its harmless expression in children’s play?

Yes, we are, and it’s making a mess of the world. It doesn’t make violence go away when we always tell boys, “Put that stick down.” Instead, it’s making a world where people, boys and girls alike, have no idea what to do about unjust violence.

Boys playing with sticks is not a meaningless game. It’s something that little boys absolutely must be allowed to do, if that’s how they want to play. A boy who wants to pick up a stick needs to know that he can, and he may, and that his affinity for sticks is not a bad thing. He needs to know that a stick is a powerful thing, and that the world needs men who know how to use their sticks.

Boys who are never allowed to be wild are boys who never learn how to control that wildness. Boys who are not allowed to whack and be whacked with sticks never learn what fighting is like. What’s so bad about that? Well, they may end up hitting someone weak, with no idea how much it hurts to be hit. Or they may end up standing by while the strong go after the weak – and have no idea that it’s their job to put a stop to it.

Either way, the weak suffer. The whole world suffers.

Boys aren’t a problem to be fixed. Parent should correct the little details when the way they play really hurts someone else, but we should let the main energy of our children go the way it wants to go. If that means finding shapes in clouds or writing stories, that’s fine. Don’t push our sons to be fighters if they doesn’t naturally run that way.

But if they naturally want to turn everything they touch into a weapon, then that’s fine, too — as long as they know there are rules.  If your boys wants weapons, then keep weapons in your house. Make a place for them. Give your boys permission to be who they are, and encourage whatever good impulses you see in them.

And give other parents permission to let their kids be kids, too. Some parents aren’t hearing it from anyone else. If your house is the place where their son first lays hand on a sword, don’t apologize! But let him know that swords come with rules. Don’t banish fighting; banish cruelty.

In the issue of violent play, as with so many other issues, we’re forgetting there’s such a thing as balance and middle ground. Parents believe that there are only two choices: we can raise our sons to be quiet, passive, nurturing empaths who could easily slide into a princess dress without making a ripple — or we can raise them to be swaggering, slavering beasts who exist only to give orders and mow down anything in their path.

There is, of course, an in-between. There are men who are strong and tough and in control of their strength, and these men were once boys who grew up with both weapons and rules. But it’s become impossible to talk about that kind of boyhood, without being accused of trying to turn boys into one extreme or the other. When I say that my son carefully carried around caterpillars when he was a toddler, I hear that I have a secret desire to castrate men. When I say that my husband protects our family, I hear that I’m perpetuating rape culture and the myth of female victimhood. When I say that there is a difference between men and women, I hear that I am the problem – I’m the reason there’s violence and unhappiness in the world – I’m the reason we can’t all just get along. I hear that if only we would all agree to put the stick down, we’d be fine.

Yes, well. When your daughter is the one who’s lying barely conscious on the front yard of some frat house, my sons will be the ones who will know enough to charge in, swinging sticks to chase the brutes away. They’ll know because we let them have sticks, we let them find out what sticks can do, and we told them what sticks are for.

Violence doesn’t take over when boys are allowed to have sticks. Violence takes over when no one tells boys what sticks are for.

***

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Abortion Is a Men’s Issue

boy and salamander

In great men, two traits go together: strength and control. Power, and the knowledge of how to use that power, and when, and why.

There’s no merit in producing testosterone; but there is great merit, for the whole world, when men learn how to use it, and when they learn how to be in control of it, rather than letting it control them. Great men know when to hold their strength in check, and how to use it for the right things. Great men use their strength to protect.

Read the rest at the Register. 

Photo  of boy holding salamander by Simcha Fisher:

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I’m so proud/horrified (#13 is my favorite)

The other day, this appeared on the bathroom door:

 

how to poop

 

It was written by my 12-year-old son, who is both very twelve, and very much my son.

Can’t quite make it out? You can either walk away in blissful ignorance, or you can read on, and prepare yourself for the next generation of Fishers. Here is what it says:

 

RULES FOR POOPING IN A STAIN-FREE MANNER

1. Open bathroom door and (using feet) walk in.

2. Close and lock bathroom door.

3. Walk to sink, reach across and turn on light.

4. Walk to toilet.

5. Open lid of toilet.

6. Pull down pants and underwear.

7. Place butt on toilet seat (commonly known as sitting).

8. Concentrate the muscles in the lower region (butt) until [redacted]. Repeat as many times as  necessary.

9. Get wad of toilet paper and wipe away remaining poo. Repeat.

10. Reach for silver thingy on side and pull down (commonly known as “flushing”)

11. Walk to sink and turn on.

12. Rub hands with soap and put under sink until clean.

13. Wipe wet hands on pants.

14. Walk to door and open.

15. Walk out.

Congratulations, YOU POOPED!

TAKE ONE CERTIFICATE
IF YOU HAVE COMPLETED ALL ACTIONS

[I POOPED AND I’M PROUD]

 

I am not sure what, in particular, brought this on. But I noticed that no one has taken a certificate yet.

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The boy has an aha moment.

PIC Aha band “Not this kind, fortunately. Never this kind.”

Says the boy: My tooth is almost out. Can I just have my tooth fairy money now so I can buy this thing?
Me: Nope. Sorry.
Boy: Okay. I guess I better haul some more rocks so I can earn the money, because I really want it.
Me: Good idea.
[Me on the inside: HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

Now to spread the word to everyone who owns a credit card . . .

 

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A boy is a boy is a boy. . .

. . . and always has been.

Almost a thousand of the perfectly preserved documents, scratched on the bark of birch trees, have been recovered from the deep layers of Novgorod’s anaerobic clay soil over the past century… The birch-bark documents date from the 11th to 15th centuries and include tax returns, school exercises, wills, IOUs, marriage proposals, prayers, spells and curses … The most charming, however, are a series of 13th century drawings by a boy named Onfim, who was about 7 years old when he drew them around 1220 AD.  Onfim was supposed to be learning to write, but his daydreams got the better of him and his spelling exercises are mixed with doodles. In this example, Onfim has diligently copied out the first eleven letters of the alphabet in the corner of the page, but got bored and drew a picture of himself as a warrior, sword in one hand and impaling an enemy with a spear in the other – he even labelled the figure on the horse as ‘Onfim’.

PIC Onfim the warrior

In another example, he drew a picture of himself as a wild beast (which he identified by writing “I am a wild beast” over it).

Onfim the Wild Beast would have gotten along just fine with my son Elijah — who, when he was two years old, came down the stairs in the morning growling to himself, “Here – come – wi-ld – Ji-jah . . . ” Here is something Elijah (now 9) recently doodled, apparently while taking a break from making a Christmas wish list:

New technology, same old boys.

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Another quick book recommendation

Since my son left his math book at the dentist’s office, pretty much all we’ve done in home school is a little spelling, a craft or two (you can pretend I didn’t say that if it makes you feel inadequate.  You wouldn’t feel inadequate if you saw our crafts, though), and read The Odyssey retold for children by Geraldine McCaughrean.

Sometimes I read, and sometimes the kids read aloud.  Kids who read silently far above grade level often don’t know how to read aloud, so this is a good exercise; and it also lets you get something done (like making lunch) while home schooling.  It’s also a good way of finding out that your mostly-excellent reader has a few kinks to iron out, phonics-wise.  (Translation:  the kid wouldn’t know a schwa from a hole in the ground.)

Here’s a passage we just read from this very engaging retelling, to give you an idea of the style:

By the light of lightning bolts which rained down around him, Odysseus saw the frightened, colourless eyes of fishes, and the suckered arms of reaching squid.  The waves that folded over him were shot through with eels and peppered with sharp barnacles and razorshells.  The troughs that swallowed him were deeper and darker than Charybdis, and the currents beneath dragged him three times round the ocean like dead Hector was dragged three times round the walls of Troy.

Pretty good, eh?  Nice and rhythmic for reading aloud, but not too complicated.  At the end of one chapter, my six-year-old son asked his eight-year-old brother, “Do you think Odysseus will make it home?  Mama, CAN I LOOK AHEAD?” and his brother said, “No, no, don’t find out!  I don’t know either!”  They haven’t been this excited since there was a dead mole in the sandbox.

Oh, and the illustrations in this book are wild and satisfying, too.  There are a few naked women — Sirens and whatnot — so you will have to use your judgment.  I didn’t want my son to be exposed to the unclothed female form, so when we got to that part, I just hid the book behind the baby, who, um, was nursing.

One final note:  I love ancient Greece.  I mean, I really, really love it.  A few weeks ago, I asked the six-year-old if he wanted to read Bible stories or Greek myths.  He chose Bible stories.  And I tried to talk him out of it.  Yes, I did.  Obviously, I’m not warping him too badly — I mean, he did choose the Bible stories — but it looks like I have a few kinks of my own to iron out.

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Guest Post: Kristen Herrett on “Raising Daddies”

Kristen Herrett of St. Monica’s Bridge graciously allowed me to repost her sensible and valuable essay about her letting her sons play with baby dolls.  I especially liked the line:  “I want them to understand that sometimes we make mistakes, but our love is never a mistake.”

Raising Daddies

by Kristen Herrett

The images in this post are of my sons. With a baby doll. I posted them on Facebook a few weeks ago to mixed reviews. Most thought they were cute. A few privately messaged me to take them down and stop letting my boys “play with dolls.” The pictures remain and my boys still have access to the doll.

When I became a mother I had certain ideas of how I was going to raise my children. I would venture to guess most mothers do. I quickly found out that some of these ideas I had did not exactly fit my temperament, my mothering style or my kids. I was all about babywearing. My babies, not so much. I thought co-sleeping would be great…but I wasn’t doing any of the sleeping part. Other things, like breastfeeding, were great.

I never set out to raise my children in a “gender neutral” household. And really, they don’t live in one. Yes, when Jeff is home he cooks, but that’s because he is a chef. And I do wear pants. And for a time, I worked while he stayed home with the children. And there have been occasions where emergency or budget have dictated one of my boys have worn a pink pull-up or had a pink pacifier. But, for the most part, boys are boys and girls are girls here.

Shelby has a few “baby” dolls. She sometimes shows interest in them, mostly does not. Real babies hold no interest for her until they are able to sit up. It is only then that she sort of “gets” that this thing that mommy is carrying constantly is a human being. We keep the baby dolls out and praise her when she shows interest, not because it is a girl toy, but because she is behind with her social interactions and encouraging a positive association with infants is important for her to learn.

The phenomenon of the boys and this baby doll is a recent thing. It has only occurred after my brothers began spending time with my best friend’s new-born infant son. Joey likes to “practice” holding the baby so he can hold Baby Ryan and his soon to be born cousin Baby Bella. He also practices how to feed the baby and give it a paci when it cries. He has named the baby “Will” after his brother. For Will, he wants to imitate his big brother and he needs to practice being gentle around babies for sure!

I do not for a minute think I am confusing my boys or emasculating them. After all, they don’t want to wear dresses now and have proclaimed that Barbies are for girls. But I realize that some people very much view it that way. So, I will go ahead and explain why I haven’t ripped the doll out of my boys’ hands.

I am raising children. Some day, my boys may very likely become fathers. I want to raise them to be good Daddies. I don’t want them to fear their children when they are newborns. I want them to approach the task with some kind of confidence. I want them to understand that sometimes we make mistakes, but our love is never a mistake. I want them to be able to support a wife who has difficulty breastfeeding and be able to comfort a crying child. We forget these things are not necessarily traits we are born with. I’ve watched many a father struggle and wish they could have just observed their dads doing some of the parenting things they find themselves doing, let alone been encouraged to do them themselves.

And for the record, my boys do an inordinately large amount of wrestling, shooting each other with water guns, fighting, playing Thomas and rooting for Penn State and Carolina’s football teams.

Parenting is a very difficult task. One that no matter how many books you read you can never fully master. I’ve chosen to try to expose my children to learning through doing. And right now, my sons seem to be proponents of attachment parenting (we say Joey is co-sleeping in the picture above). Will they continue as adults? Who knows, there is a lot of time between now and then…in the mean time I hope and pray that I am raising daddies who will rise to the task of fathering their children in the best ways possible.