Thursday, July 30, 2009


I can't leave them alone for a minute. This includes the supposed adult.

SO, Saturday before last Gary took the boys backpacking. I might have gone on that trip, but I'd agreed to close the dojo at nights while the owners were away. I welcomedmade the best of the alone time.

It came at a price.

Connor burst in early Sunday afternoon. The (damn) dog got the first (effusive) greeting, and he'd barely said hello to chopped-liver me before he's asking if he can have "a thingy". "What's a 'thingy?'" "Dad?" Silence and sheepish grins. "Well?"

He wants a Pl.ayboy magazine.

He wants us to buy it for him. "Dad said to ask you."

I glare at Gary. "You let it go this far? You didn't just say no and stop this thing from the outset?"

In reply, Gary goes into the office and digs out the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. When it came in the spring I'd looked through it and decided it wasn't appropriate for a (then) 11 year old. It's not the coy nudity (in this issue some of the swimsuits are painted on), it's the blatant intent to be provocative. I'd bypassed Connor and gave it to Gary asking him what he thought of it. It languished in his office until last Sunday. Various pictures are now torn out and taped to Connor's bedroom walls.

The question isn't whether or not he can have Playb.oy magazine. It's the discussion of why not. He's already anticipating my saying no. And he already has his own idea of the nature of my objection. I want him to really hear me, rather than have my thoughts pressed into the mold of some stereotype and dismissed. Of course I have no control over what he does with my words. But it's a good exercise in coming to my own sense of internal clarity about it.

Part of that is to have a better sense of what this means to him. Although he's 12 and I suppose it should be obvious that it's about seeking the visual sexual experience I still wonder if that's too simple. When I question I get the 'well, duh' look from him. I'm trying to probe the origins of this conversation between him and Gary for clues. (And where was Scott while this talk was taking place?)

Connor is awaiting my "answer".

One thing I'm considering is substituting some sort of book of photographic art; something with less focus on self-gratification. My friend Doug is an artist with a reverential approach to the human body. His portfolio of figure studies is very beautiful. That could be a good place to start.

My cousin guest-blogged on my other cousin (her big sister)'s site a week or so ago about boys this age and their rising hormones. It was a very funny post and involved "sticky socks". I worry wonder if I might have some in my near future.

And in the meantime a curveball has been thrown from the Scott end of things:

For reasons that will become obvious I'm only going to address the kids involved by letters.

Today after swim class I was going to take Scott to pick up a friend. The boy's dad and I had prearranged a hand-off so J could come home with us to spend the night. Scott was thrilled. As we climbed in the car to head to the rendezvous he asked a question I was only half-listening to (I have got to quit doing that). Something about putting 'junk' in a mailbox being against the law. I assured him that it was indeed against the law and he kept talking as I zoned out until my attention was arrested by him saying something about 'kicking me out'. I wondered if he'd done something to get in trouble and it was only now surfacing, so I said, "You got kicked out of what?" "The Teenaged Bad-Boy's Club! Because Z said I had to put junk in a mailbox to be in the club and I said, 'NO!'--and you know what? I'm GLAD they kicked me out of their club! I don't want to be in that club! I don't want to put junk in a mailbox! It's not right to put trash in a mailbox!"

Well. Here was another reminder of how Scott processes events and information. While I am clueless, things slip in to his consciousness where he works and works them. I have no idea until something like this emerges, fully assembled. This had to have happened some time ago, and only now it's revealed. And I was so pleased. This seemed like such a leap in Self formation. I told him very strong people know what they want to do and can stay true to it under threat. I remarked that this would serve him well, the ability to withstand being bullied into something he doesn't want to do. I told him I couldn't wait to tell his father, and Scott said, "and I can't wait to tell J." Z is a mutual friend of Scott and J's, and like many threesomes, the alliances shift.

It seemed like a normal commute with 2 boys in the car. Excited to see each other for the first time in weeks they spoke loudly, getting louder as sometimes their words would collide and they'd vie to be heard. When they got deafening I tuned in for a moment and realized Scott was telling J about Z. "I was so mad at him I wanted to kill him." J: "But then you would go to jail. Z would go to jail too." (I wonder if they were discussing the trash-in-mailbox story.) Scott: "Z says there's no such thing as jail for children, but there is. It's called, "Juvenile". He says there's no such thing as "Juvenile" but he's wrong." J: "One of my favorite books is called {excavator can't remember } . And there's a children's prison in there and it's really bad." Scott jumped on top of those words to say Z had threatened to kick him out of the Teenage Badboys Club.

Then J said, "Z told me that if I sucked his penis he'd let me be the leader of the Badboy's club. And so I did, then he didn't let me."



Did I just hear that? Or did I just think I heard it?

But then J again said, "He lied to me. I sucked his penis and then he didn't let me be the leader."

Spoken very matter-of-factly. His main concern was that Z had broken the agreement. He could just as well have said, "Z promised me I'd be the leader of the club if I did 10 push-ups and then he broke his promise."

Scott said, "That's really gay."

J: "What's gay?"

S: "When one guy sucks another' know; or sucks his balls."

J: "Welllll, uh"

Clearly he'd had no sense of stigma about his broken transaction with Z, and now I worried that Scott might unwittingly be planting the seed for that: the tree of knowledge, the conclusion of being naked and ashamed. (Believe me, it was bad enough hearing those words come out of Scott's mouth, which I attribute to him having an older brother. It's a three-fold-bad: (1) planting a seed of shame for J, (2) defining 'gay' in such knowing terms, (3) using 'gay' as a pejorative. Oh man, we've got a lot to talk about...). I decided to involve myself in the conversation to point out that children often experiment and it doesn't mean they are 'gay' (then as I said that I realized I was stumbling into the sticky area of seeming to imply something wrong with being gay). The boys didn't notice my attempt; they kept on talking, and so I asked casually, "Hey, J, did you ever tell your mom and dad about that?" "No" he said. That "no" told me he had a sense that this would be different from telling mom and dad that Z had made him do 10 push-ups.

I'm just driving home from a park and a bomb lands in my lap. I have to decide what to do about this, and it's a whole can of worms.

The first worm is the topic of childhood sexuality. Even among 'enlightened' parents it's not a neutral subject. Z, by the way, is a younger child than either Scott or J, but he is definitely an alpha kid. He's extremely competitive and he plays to win. So it doesn't surprise me that he would use dominating tactics, but the possibility that this has bled into the sexual realm is worrisome.

Still, should childhood sexuality be so loaded? It's treated very differently from other realms of child relating. Generally adults give kids freedom to work through other issues on their own, but sexuality seems to be in a category by itself. If J had said that Z had told him he had to do the pushups in order to be the leader of the club, I wouldn't feel any responsibility to say something to the parents. What, really, is different about sexuality?

Those sort of abstract questions I can ponder on my own. I don't think they make a difference in the course of action I see before me:

First, I don't have any sense that J was saying other than the truth. It just came out so innocently, so devoid of overlay that it rings true. And this is why I feel protective of him; if handled poorly it could cause some confusion that could be very difficult to undo--given the fraught relationship our culture has with sex.

Second, a 7 year old boy allegedly used a sexual act as a condition of giving another boy privilege of membership. Maybe Z didn't understand this as a sexual act the way adults do. It's easy to read exploitative intent into it. Still, he had to have gotten the idea from somewhere. I don't know that young children independently come up with an idea of having someone suck their penis, let alone make it a condition for something. It seems more likely he got this from an outside source. His parents need to be aware of this in case the source was exploitive. Another child? An adult, teenager?

J's parents need to know, so they can guide the way he may come to regard this. Though the incident seems devoid of any connotations for him now, a seed has been planted and when our culture teaches him more, he will need a way to help him process it. Scott's response is a case in point. I certainly need to find a way to learn more about the lens through which Scott is looking at the world.

Trying to maintain clarity of intent in discussing this with the boys' parents, now that is going to be a challenge.


Mrs. Spit said...

Oh dear, that took my breath away.

When I talk to J's parents, I probably wouldn't talk about the sex act as such, I'd talk about the issues of power and control and domination.

It's fundamentally different from the push ups, in that we don't use 10 push ups as a way to control people. 10 Push ups are a demonstration of our own strength. If it was 100, that would be different.

My issue is this. I doubt the oral sex was about the pleasure of it. I think it was about power and control, one child controlling and dominating another.
"I can make you do something which still has negative connotations", and more than that, I can make you do something "dirty" that you don't even understand. It's a rather sadistic way to control, and I'll be honest, that scares the crap out of me.

Less for J, as he seems to have emerged mostly unscathed, and perhaps has learned a powerful lesson about playing other people's games when you don't know the rules, and more for the boy who was demanding the sex act.

Finally, as someone who worked with kids - the behaviour is a a HUGE marker for childhood sexual abuse, and perhaps it is worth a call to the police, to have them investigate.

Lavender Luz said...

O. M. G.

I was fired up when I read about Gary's sloughing off the tough parenting onto you.

But when I got to the J part, I am hyperventilating. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I wish I had the bandwidth to think through what I would do. But instead I will just check back to see what wisdom YOU come up with.

Which I know you will.

Sheri said...

Wow! Lots of stuff going on here. I am sending you some loving support as you work through this.

I know you will take the right approach for the magazines and the J situation.

Let me know if you need anything else.

Aunt Becky said...

Man, I have no idea what I would do. This just...isn't a good thing.

I think I would do what you did and have a talk with the parents. Then, I would have the sex talk with my kid.

There would probably be a lot of hand-wringing on my end.