Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Mommy's away...

I just got back from six days in Orlando at my organization's annual convention. This is a trip I look forward to and dread in equal parts each year. Imagine it: 10,000 teachers, mostly elementary school level, running around hundreds of sessions over the course of three days, across two massive buildings, with me and my colleagues at the center of every detail. We plan it for over a year; in fact, starting Monday we'll be planning 2012's convention. But it's a week of energizing enthusiasm, a time we can look around and feel that the work we do really is important.

This trip is old hat for my husband and family too -- it's my tenth (!) convention trip. In fact, this year, I didn't even cook meals ahead of time. I knew they'd have more fun with McDonalds and frozen pizza and ice cream truck treats and cereal nights.

And I really didn't worry about the children or the husband being here without me. I know Big Daddy is actually better equipped to be a SAHM than I am; he cooks, he cleans, he organizes, he does homework, he does baths and reads books and tucks in bed quickly and efficiently, without the whining-stalling-yelling-bargaining routine. (I did, however, worry a teeny bit about my cats. I feared that with all the excitement of junk food dinners and boy sleepovers, the people in the house might neglect to feed and water the furry ones.) 

While I was away,
  • The ATM machine ate Daddy's card, leaving him sans cash for a week. This means the junk food-a-thon that had been planned could not take place.
  • A three-day low-grade fever was, in fact, an ear infection for Zippy. So Daddy stayed home and cuddled the babe for most of the week.
  • Happy lost his first tooth. And his second.
  • Big Daddy power-washed and repainted the deck. I have no idea how he managed that while simultaneously single-parenting. (See aforementioned SAHM skills that out-skill mine.)
Meanwhile, I spent five gloriously quiet nights in a Hilton, complete with complimentary breakfast, evening hors d'oeuvres and honor bar as well as a giant heated pool and pristine fitness room. During this time, even though I worked my tail off during the day, I got to eat nice meals that I didn't have to cook, and someone came in every day to make the bed. I read an entire novel! Best of all, the only person I had to bathe and dress and feed was me. There was a time I would have felt guilty about that. 

That time has passed.

You know the best part about going away for a week? The gigantic hug and "Oh, I'm so happy you're home" I received from my handsome man when I walked in the door. Before I left, I was pretty sure he'd think the evening-parent shift was easy, thus negating all my bitching and yelling and passing out at 9pm most nights. Evidently not. Whew.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An open letter to the world's bus bullies

There are things, as a parent, I know I need to be prepared for: My children will fall down the stairs or off their bikes, they will get reprimanded at school for doing something stupid, they will have meltdowns in the middle of the mall, and they will get picked on by other kids from time to time. I know this. Yet for some reason, when this stuff actually happens, I always feel surprised, startled...and so freaking hurt! I know, I know: Welcome to parenthood.

Today Happy got off the school bus and buried his face in my hip, wrapped his arms around me, and crumpled into tears. I shuffled us quickly back to the car, worried the other kids would see him and tease him, where Happy told me that he wanted to tear his shirt off and rip it into pieces:

"Because So-and-so was teasing me! He called me a retard...and said purple is a girl color! And the other kids were laughing! And he said I'm gay!!! And I don't even know what that meeeeans!"

Instantly my heart broke for my sobbing baby. But I seethed! The blood rushed to my face. I heard whoosh-whoosh in my ears. My hands clutched the steering wheel so hard I thought I'd bend it. I clenched my jaw. Horrible violent thoughts of this bullying little jerk flew through my brain. For a moment I could feel myself turning green and muscly, my clothing ripping off my body, my rage fueling a Hulk-Mom transformation.

Instead, calmly....coolly...compassionately I told my boy that I was sorry his feelings got hurt; that purple is a very handsome color; that all the coolest men in the world (including his father) are wearing purple these days; and that the best way to deal with a mean kid is to say "Whatever," roll your eyes, and act like it doesn't bother you. I also told him that I feel sorry for people who are mean to others because I know that someone else is mean to them; I told him bullies often feel bad about themselves, and they learn meanness from others.

Then we went inside the house and ate pretzels and drank apple juice, and Happy found great delight in my cutting a pair of his ripped-knee pants into shorts. Our evening moved along as most evenings do (though I did notice he was a bit more sensitive and whiny than usual), and at bedtime we role-played the "whatever" moment. (We had to role-play a few times, of course, because the first time he "whatever'd" then kissed me...which probably wouldn't really improve the whole gay-calling thing.)

So Happy seems to have moved on from his sadness. Kids bounce. But here it is, six hours later, and I am still all riled up. My stomach is in knots. I am angry. I am hurt. There is still tension in my jaw. I am reliving all those times when I was a child (teenager, adult) and other kids mocked me. It hurts a thousand times more now because I can't shield him from these wounds. And even though I said all those kind, cool, compassionate things to my son earlier today -- and even though I meant them -- right now, this is what I really want to say to the little bag of snot who hurt my baby's feelings:

You, little boy, are a bratty little turd who is not worthy of even one of the tears my son shed today. You are nasty to other kids because you feel bad about yourself; maybe if you shut your mouth and spent some time being kind, you would notice that most of the children around you are amazing -- full of joy and wonder and creativity and heart.

Your parents probably have no idea that you behave this way, but I bet they wouldn't really find it troubling. In fact, they might even shrug their shoulders and tell me this is normal, that my kid has to learn how to fend for himself because life is cruel sometimes, or that it's my fault for letting you wear a purple shirt. It's possible your parents are the kind of people who laugh at me now when I pass by because I am super tall or my hair is too frizzy or my car is too old.

You will spend most of your life feeling bitter and angry because people like my son are smarter and have more friends and more imagination and do interesting things in their spare time. There will come a day, maybe 10 years from now, when my son is 6-foot-6 and weighs 250 pounds and looks right over your head like you're not even there as he walks by you with his friends; you will wish you had been nicer to him so that he'd come to your aid when some teenage thug is picking on you in the high school parking lot.

I do feel a tiny bit sorry for you, little boy, because you are probably picked on too. Any first-grade child who throws around words like gay and girl and retard as insults has heard those words from someone else. I feel sorry that you don't have the guidance and nurture that you deserve, that you don't have someone who will sit you down and explain to you that some words are double-edged daggers. But mostly I feel sorry that you haven't allowed yourself the opportunity to get to know my son, to play Star Wars or Batman with him on the playground, or to sing silly songs and dance with him in the yard, to go on adventure hikes in the woods looking for leprechauns. You are missing out on so much fun.

Next time you want to call him gay or girl or retard, know this: My son will be comfortable in his own skin, unlike you, because his parents are raising him to show love and kindness to everyone he meets -- especially gays and girls and kids with special needs -- and even you. My son wears purple because it's a royal color and he is a prince among his peers. You, little toad nugget, will never wear purple, unless it's around your eye because someone finally gets sick of your bullying and knocks you the frig out.

Oh, and by the way, WHATEVER.