Sunday, August 2, 2009


1) A man, his wife and two children pull up to the wife's parents' house on the fourth of July for a family gathering. They have been arguing intensely for the half hour it takes to drive over. He's asked her to turn the car around and take him home. She has refused, but sets things up so he can depart when they arrive: leaves the motor running, gets out and tells the kids to get their stuff and come on. He moves over to the driver's seat and drives off. A few days later he is subjected to a lecture by his sister-in-law telling him that his children were crying when they came to the door: "Dad left us! He's left us!" In the course of the lecture where he's told he should 'be there for his children' he realizes the sister-in-law believes they are getting a divorce and she is trying to talk him out of it.

2) Jon Stewart has a new segment to his show called, "So You Think You Can Douche"--a kind of variation on "The Week's Worst Person" award. He played a film montage from Sean Hannity's show on Fox; short clips of pieces of Obama's speeches (including, "We do not consider ourselves to be a Christian nation") and ending with "And there you have it...six months of hope and change". The soundtrack is choral, something very scary and apocalyptic. When the clip ends Stewart is sitting there with an odd look on his face, saying, "That didn't make any sense. but I still feel angry and afraid." He cited the soundtrack from "The Omen". I haven't been able to locate the exact piece, but it is very much of the ilk of "The Omen" theme. He countered by playing a clip from "Dora the Explorer" with the same soundtrack.

3) I'm a child on a playground approached by my mother and a neighbor who want to know if I've taken the neighbor's child's toy. I'm not sure what it is they're asking me. I had taken it, earlier that day, when the child showed it to me. I'd 'taken' it, but couldn't remember giving it back, and they hadn't asked me if I had given it back. So in my desire to tell the truth I told them I had taken it. Telling the truth, to 6 year old me, meant admitting to something, even if the consequences were unpleasant. It was something "brave" children did. The adults heard that I had "stolen" it and proceeded from there. I was too young to be able to tease apart the nuances for them, and so concluded that I had done something very bad. The misunderstanding just compounded from there until the next day when the neighbor came over and said that they had found the toy on her daughter's bed that very night. In the meantime there had been spankings and threats of jail.


We adults often carry a soundtrack inside of us that we're not even aware is there. When the children in the first example cried, "Our dad has left us!" the adults concerned assumed he'd Left them, his wife and kids. The children probably meant only 'left', like being 'left off' at a friends'. The family presumed, without knowing they were presuming, that the nature of this 'leaving' was much more permanent. They were angry with the father for 'leaving' and traumatizing his kids. It's a case of a big misunderstanding, where the adult interpretation of the situation, and the children's are very different, yet seem the same. Thus the children's fears were reinforced, by the adults, which made it worse for them. (Having not been there, I acknowledge I have my own presumptions about the scenario when the wife and children went through that front door. I am wondering if the wife did anything to dispel the notion that the husband was Leaving; if she comforted the kids by saying, 'Mom and Dad just need a little space from each other. He'll be back." If the sister-in-law felt a need to lecture later on, it makes me wonder.)

Similarly, the adults' picture of what it means for a child to "take" something was very different from mine. One misunderstanding fueled another.

When I blogged about J and Z I had not yet put the pieces of my head back together after it exploded in the car upon overhearing the boys' conversation. My particular soundtrack lent itself to a sinister scenario; a manipulative child with malicious intent. An innocent victim, so innocent he doesn't even know he's been victimized. I've seen the younger child, Z's drive to win, the strength of his will. It seemed very plausible that his intent was dominance and control, an eerily adult calculation. At first my only thought was about talking with J's parents. In the meantime a friend had called aLinknd I told her what I'd just heard--only then did it occur to me that Z's parents needed to be spoken to as well. I had forgotten the possibility that Z might be a victim.

I was in a paradigm where someone was a victim. And I didn't know I was in a paradigm; I accepted it as reality.

It's true that we can't hear "I'll give you x if you suck my penis" without a sexual overlay. Or at least I couldn't.

I called J's mom and got a voice mail. So I had a choice to ask this mother to "call me back" (I hate receiving those kinds of messages. There is some kind of portent in the attempted nonchalant tone, yet the hint that there is something that can't be left in a message. Those things scare me to death.) or to just leave the message. I took that fork in the road and reported what I'd heard. I told her my main purpose in letting her know, besides the fact that I'd want to know if it was information about Scott, was so that she and her husband could help guide the way that J might come to perceive this event. I told her I was available to call and would be very happy to give her any information I could. Then I instantly began to second-guess myself. Had I done the right thing? Had I screwed up in leaving something like that in a message, for God's sake?

There was still the other question that was nagging at the back of my mind. Thinking in terms of "leaving something like that in a message" implies a certain gravity about what I needed to tell her. Again, I would have no qualms, no sense of urgency, maybe no need to even tell her if Z had asked J to do 10, 20, 30 push-ups, or some chores for him. Where does this gravity come from? Does it come from the fact that sexual organs were involved? And why should that be so charged? The fact that I'm even bringing this information gives it a gravity I wasn't sure I was comfortable with; I suppose it was like a "soundtrack" I was uneasy with and couldn't quite shake.

Next I called Z's mother, and she was there. She sounded so happy to hear from me, which caused me discomfort--I felt very phony to be exchanging niceties with her ("How are the boys", etc) when I had this 'thing' to talk about. So I was off-balance and my timing was awkward when I told her what I'd heard in the car.

Any hint of defensiveness was dispelled very quickly. If there was any defensiveness it may not have even come from her; it may have been more me fearing it. It seemed easily that I could find her defending her son's 'innocence' and me becoming a 'accuser' of sorts. And not just accusing Z, but her: a single mother with an unconventional lifestyle. A sort of presumption that her kid would be exposed to people who might be the source of this story with J. I didn't even consider these overtones until I began to talk to her, and then heard the faint soundtrack playing in the background.

If she heard it she ignored it. At first I feared it might be happening when she said, "You know, Z is really much more innocent of that type of thing than J. The first time I even heard Z say the word "dick" was after a playdate with J." However, I realized she wasn't saying that to protest innocence; she was pointing out that the two boys did have a history of some sexual play between them: J spending the night with Z and her mother was the adult present. Her mother told her the next day that she'd heard them giggling in the bedroom, and Z saying, "Don't put your tongue in my mouth!"

She and I talked for a long time, and I appreciated her forthrightness. She didn't make any excuses for Z; she realizes he has a strong will which makes it challenging to temper in social situations. She has all along, even before this particular incident. She suggested that as a group of adults we talk with our children, about being careful about what we ask people to do, about being careful what we say about others. She anticipated that she'd be talking with J's parents and seemed completely at ease about that. I told her I'd email her after I talked with them that evening.

Later, J's dad called; said he and J's mom had received my message and would be calling a little later so we could talk longer. She did so and we had a long and thoughtful conversation. Her first concern was how to talk with her son about this in such a way that he wouldn't feel a burden of shame about it. (Yeah, really. If he doesn't feel victimized, it seems counter-productive to him to give him the impression that he was.) I told her that my concern was that the incident might be like a mine laying in a harbor, quiet until disturbed in just the right way. Unfortunately, some of the very strange energy surrounding sex in our culture could provide that disturbance as he got older and she might want the opportunity to inoculate him against that.

I'm glad that she said it worked well for me to have left the message, because she was able to just listen to it and not have to worry about talking while her younger children were there. She said the timing was also good because their daughter was going to be at a friend's house the next day when I took J home and so they would be able to talk freely with him. She said they would be talking with Z's mom too. It was a heartfelt and thoughtful conversation; I hope it enlarged her experience a little, because it did mine.

The next day after taking J home it was time to talk a bit with Scott. I have a feeling that given the way he takes in and processes information that I'll have to keep dropping seeds. Some of them having to do with there being different ways of people loving each other. Hopefully the lesson can become an awareness that "gay" isn't negative. I think those conversations will need to be staggered in the coming days, months, years. What I talked with him about yesterday used the "junk in mailbox" story as a starting point. I told him again that it took a very strong person to withstand being coerced into doing something that their heart said 'no' to, like putting trash in a mailbox. I said that the same was true for his body, including his private parts. I told him that sometimes other children might want to handle his private parts, and that he should listen to the feeling inside that either said, "no", or yes, and trust his feelings. I suggested that his body was something special that shouldn't be traded for something he might want, and that no friend should ask for such a trade. And, it is NEVER ok for an adult to ask to see or handle his private parts unless it is a doctor and his dad or I say it's ok. I left it at that. For now.

I suppose it's possible Z's mother is "in denial", or was minimizing the possibility that her son may have had some unwholesome exposure that's more troublesome than the notion of his picking up little bits here and there and synthesizing the idea that led to the whole story. But I have also seen in my own life, and in observing my children, that sometimes what's apparent can be misleading as to what's below. We were all in agreement about that. I certainly think the whole incident warrants heightened awareness of what may or may not be influencing our children's thinking, but care to not overlay our adult projections on top. That said, I'm inclined to believe that something happened. It was the off-hand way J told Scott what had happened, and it being incidental in the story to the broken promise. For him to have done that for effect seems s beyond this child's years. The lesson for that is the danger of complacency.

Having talked with the children's parents I felt that my role with them is done for now, and I can ponder some of the questions the whole thing raises. I decided to cast my question upon the internet, and googled search terms: "harmful children sexual play each other" or some such. I found some very interesting sites that discuss this. One site is devoted to the harm that some of the zero-tolerance policies may do to children. Apparently there are some states where children as young as 8 can be classified as sex offenders, even if their sexual activity is with children of the same age who are willing participants. There are unlicensed sexual rehabilitation programs for young children that in themselves are abusive. There are some voices questioning the notion that children be denied sexual exploration that's age-appropriate and mutual.

I'm planning on doing some research and possibly another post on this topic. In early 60's America I was shamed pretty harshly in this area, and so it is of some special interest to me.

It makes the request for a Playbo.y magazine seem relatively uncomplicated. The synchronicity of this is very interesting.

I had an epiphany. I was reflecting on the sexual shame and guilt I experienced as a young child, some of which was related to Pl.ayboy magazines. It occurs to me that Connor's request isn't so much about the magazine, or having it. It's a sort of declaration to me that he's a sexual being now, and perhaps even a request for my "blessing".

He has that blessing. But I'm still not going to buy him Playboy.


Lavender Luz said...

I knew you would find the wisdom.

And boy, did you!

Wordgirl said...

Wow. I'm really going to come back and reread this post -- I so admire how you approached this situation. I was still chewing on what I would do in your place if, in a few years, W asked the same question about the Pla.yboy -- and then I read this entry -- and it makes me wonder what's going on with our son -- he's so seemingly unaware of the elements of sex and sexuality -- and while we haven't avoided anything if asked -- (I can't remember him every asking) -- I know none of us have ever addressed anything other than the -- 'your body is your own...discussion -- much as you had though not nearly as eloquent -- and I've been suspecting that more is going on beneath the surface than he's sharing right now -- so it's good for me to read about other people's experiences with their children as they reach these moments...




Sheri said...

I knew you would handle this...with style and grace.

It sounds like you will keep handling it the story continues to unfold.