Bad Guys

On a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon, Stephen and I made apple pie together.  As we sliced, we talked.  I asked him what he learned at Sunday school that morning.

“Oh,” he said.  “Just safety stuff.”

“Yeah?  What kind of safety stuff?”

“Just what to do if there’s a fire or whatever.  And stranger danger.”

I nearly choked on an apple.  Stranger danger!?”

No disrespect, and I think our church is great….but Catholics warned him against stranger danger?  Let’s not pretend strangers are the greatest threat to my altar boy!

“Ok, stranger danger, but remember that unfortunately you are more likely to be hurt by someone you know.  A teacher, coach, pastor, priest, scout leader, family member etc?  Not someone jumping out of a bush.”

“Yeah yeah mom we don’t need to talk about it again!  I know I know!”

I sighed.  “I know, honey, it’s not something anyone likes to talk about.  I just want you to be aware that it’s not usually strangers who hurt kids.”

The next day on NPR, I heard the statistic that suicide has become the leading cause of death among adolescents.  And then a segment on what schools can do to prepare for shooters.

My boys like to play “good guys” and “bad guys.”  In their games, there is no confusion about who is who, and the good guys always win.  I smile at their play, and realize that “bad guys” live with Santa and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.   Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, and it turns out they’re all the same; just people.

The person statistically most likely to shoot my son is himself.  A trusted friend or family member is statistically most likely to assault my children.

It’s more comforting to believe in bad guys.

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Exciting Life

When I tucked Reid into bed, he had a huge smile on his face.  He had lost his first tooth at lunch.  The school gave him a plastic tooth necklace to keep it safe, and he put it under his pillow.

“The tooth fairy hasn’t come yet,” he said.  “I felt my tooth and it’s still there!”

“She won’t come until you’re asleep!” I said.

He smiled and shivered with excitement.

“Are you happy?”  I asked.

“The tooth fairy is coming AND tomorrow is Johnny Appleseed Day!”  He exclaimed.  “It’s all so so so exciting!”

The wonderful life of Kindergarten!

(Though Reid and Will were disappointed that they still had to collect the trash and do chores on Johnny Appleseed day…they thought they’d get a pass due to the “holiday”!)

 

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Growing up: a poem

My son,

I see you.

Standing on the edge, razor thin

Between childhood and manhood

 

Growth hormone

Testosterone

Molecules steal my baby

In pieces every night

 

Are you the same person

Who shared my body

Sucked my breast

Slept in my bed

 

I feel like God.

I see your past

And your future

In the present time

 

Intimate love, bodies mingled

Me

You

Another woman

 

Tomorrow

Standing on tiptoes to kiss a rough cheek

Yesterday

Your lips suckling in the dark

 

Today

I see you.

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Mystery floater

You give away the diapers, your kids are all at school, you think you’re coasting on Easy Street, and then you hear from the bathroom:

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“There’s poop in the tub.”

“What do you mean there’s…..oh my God….THERE’S POOP IN THE TUB!!  Boys, who pooped in the tub!?”

Reid and Will turned red and looked at each other.  They shrugged.

Reid offered, “I don’t know.  Wasn’t me.”

Will said, “I don’t know.  Wasn’t me.”

Eric said, “Someone sat there LOOKING at the toilet one foot away while he pooped in the tub!  Seriously, who did that?”

Reid and Will exchanged guilty looks.  “I didn’t do it,” they chorused.

I got Reid and Will out of the tub and into our shower while Eric sanitized the tub.  “Two guilty faces and a turd in the tub but no one did it,” he fumed as he cleaned.

The next evening at dinner, we were discussing the incident and chuckling.

“Still no confessions?”  I asked.  “Maybe they really didn’t realize they did it.  What do you think, Reid?”

Reid shrugged.  “I don’t know.  It wasn’t me.”

“What do you think, Will?”

Will shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

“Willy…..”  Eric prompted.

Finally Will looked up with a little shy smile.  “Well,” he said.  “My body made me do it!”

 

 

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Young Love

I discovered Stephen has two girls harboring crushes on him.  The first, from last year, was revealed to me and Eric at a parent/teacher conference.

“I assume you know all about A,” the teacher said with a smile and raised eyebrows.

Eric and I looked blank.  “A?  Who is A?”

“Oh my!  You don’t know about A!?  The whole school day, it’s ‘A and me this, Stephen and A that,’ they’re practically joined at the hip, it’s so cute.”

We had never heard her name mentioned.  When I asked Stephen about her, he turned red and then hid behind the couch.

“Stephen?”  I asked the couch.  “Stephen?  It’s ok, I was just wondering about her.  Your teacher told us you’re good friends.”

No response from the couch.

Then later, Stephen complained,  “It’s so annoying that everyone thinks A and I like each other.  People are always teasing us about it.  And it’s not even true, I don’t like her.”

“Well, sometimes people think the more you say you don’t like someone, the more you actually do.  You protest too much, as the saying goes.”

“No that’s not it!” Said Stephen.

“Kids also think it’s fun to get a rise out of people.  So the more excited you get about it, the more people will tease you because you get worked up.”

“Even you tease me about it,” He said glumly.

“What!?  How?”

“You ask me about her all the time!  And you make funny faces!  Like your face is funny right now!”

“Well, it is awfully entertaining to watch you turn colors and hide,” I admitted.  “You shouldn’t make it so fun to tease you.  Also, you will be having different feelings as you go through puberty, and I want you to know that I’m always here for you and we can talk about anything and….Stephen?…..  Hello? …….. Couch, have you seen Stephen?”

And another day, “People keep saying A and I like each other but I told them all I don’t like her.”

“How do you think she feels?”

“What?”

“Does she like you?”

“I have no idea!”

“Maybe you should find out.  What if she likes you and you’re running around telling everyone you don’t like her.  How do you think that makes her feel?”

His face looked blank.  “Um…..I never thought about that.”

“Yeeeah.” I said.  “So maybe don’t make such a big deal about not liking her?  It could hurt her feelings.”

“Oh.  How do you know when you like someone?”  He asked.

“You think about them all the time.  You wonder when you might see them; if you’ll pass them in the hall or see them in the cafeteria.  You think about what they’re doing, and if they like you.  If your eyes meet in line at lunch, you wonder if you should smile or pretend you didn’t see them in case they don’t like you after all….. *sigh* young love.”

“Ew Mom, that’s weird.  Did you feel like that with Dad!?”

“Oh yeah!” I responded.

He shook his head with apparent relief.  “Well, that’s just weird.  I don’t have that,” He said.

He and A kept in touch over the summer and are in many of the same classes this year.  Now he has also made friends with our neighbor, T.

“Stephen and I are going to the fall dance together,” T informed me casually as she breezed in the house one day.

“Oh really?”  I asked.  “I didn’t know there was a dance!”

“Yup,” she said.  “And we’re going.”

“Ok, cool.  That sounds like fun,” my cool-mom persona remarked.

Going together!?  What does that mean, ‘together’!!!???  Does that mean ‘together’ like ‘we’re both going to happen to be there at the same time together’ or does that mean ‘together together’!?  And what is ‘together together’ in 6th grade???   I don’t remember!  What is happening!!???

T’s grandmother confided in me that T was anxious about asking Stephen to go.  The grandmother counseled T she should let the boy ask and be patient, but T didn’t want to wait and asked him right away.  Possibly due to his friendship with A?  Could Stephen be involved in a love triangle he doesn’t know exists?

“Thank goodness she asked,” I said.  “Stephen is just a typical boy, he isn’t thinking like that yet.  I don’t think it would have ever occurred to him to ask anyone to a dance.  He probably would have forgotten there was a dance until the night before!  Poor T would have waited all month for nothing!”

After “the ask,” T had gone home to her grandma, bouncing and excited that Stephen “said yes.”  When I asked Stephen what happened, he shrugged.  “She asked me if I wanted to go, and I said, ‘sure.’  Why not?”  He barely looked up from the comics he was reading.

This non-response, as opposed to hiding, beet-faced, behind the couch?  A mark of maturity, or a sign that A is winning the battle for Stephen’s heart?  Did he learn to play it cool to avoid further questions and funny faces?  Or am I reading too much into it yet again?

As my mind raced with possibilities, I thought of us poor adolescent girls, anxiously planning the purposeful-accidental-meeting in the hall, dreaming of that coincidental-hand-brush as we both reach for the napkins, feeling crushed when no one asked us to the dance….while the boys were probably just thinking about lunch, clueless about our internal drama.

 

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Learning Hate

“Mommy, why have you and daddy been so upset about the news?” Stephen asked suddenly during a commercial while we watched TV.

“Well…um….there’s a lot that’s been going on in America this week,” I said.  I’ve decided he’d old enough to start hearing about the truth of the world.

“Like what?”

“There were White Supremacists causing a riot….no, wait, ok, let me explain from the beginning.  You remember how there used to be people who thought white people were better than black people?  And at the beginning of our country there was slavery.”

“Yes.”

“And there used to be people called Nazis who hated Jewish people and killed them in Germany?”

“Yes, we learned about that.”

“Ok, well, actually, there are still people who think like that.  They hate black people and Jews and think white people are better.”

Stephen’s jaw dropped.  “WHAT!?  Why would anyone even think that!?  That’s, that’s crazy!” He exclaimed.  “I can’t believe they even thought that in the olden days.”

“I know,” I agreed.  “But there are people who are still confused and think that.  And they’re called racists and they marched with guns in a town called Charlottesville and caused a riot.”

Stephen smacked his head.  “Just because of the color of their skin?  That just doesn’t even make any sense.  Doesn’t everyone know we’re the same inside?”

“Some people are still racists,” I said.  “That’s why it’s important that good people, especially Christian people, stand up against racism and call evil by its name.  The country has been in a fight about that also.  It is our duty to stand against racism and hate.”

I saw confusion in his clear blue eyes, bewildered.  My son, may evil continue to baffle you; may you be a light in a dark world.

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A letter to my sons

Dear Stephen and Adrian,

Friday was difficult for me.  I consented to anesthesia and surgery for you for the 6th time; 3rd for Adrian, and 3 for Stephen in addition to his hospitalization.  These are the hardest things I have ever done as a mother.  I watch you go limp, and then leave you in a cold room of strangers I must trust to care for you even as they cut you.  I did my best to explain, to tell you why strangers took you and hurt you, but in your youth, you could not understand.

Every time, I fear you will think I betrayed you–a mother’s deepest betrayal.  I failed to protect you.  I told you it would be ok, we put you to sleep, and then you awoke confused and in pain.

Stephen, your father helped press a mask to your face while you screamed and struggled as a baby.  When you were a toddler, I held you down when you tried to rip the IV out of your arm and run into the parking lot naked, screaming in fear.

When you were in the hospital with flu, I remember your eyes, terrified in the eerie never-dark ICU, begging me to take you home.  You cried, “Mom, they’re hurting me here!  Please, we have to go home now!  They’re hurting me!  Please!”  And I had to say “I can’t.  They are saving you.”  You cried in despair, tubes snaking out of your arms and nose, writhing with the whir of machines.

Adrian, my heart broke when blood-tears streamed down your face as you sobbed after your eye surgery.  Two hours earlier I left you with a sweet smile on your face in the operating room, unable to comprehend the magnitude of your situation.

I pray that you will understand why I did those things, that I did them because I love you.  I stifled my urge to protect you in the present because I knew those surgeries and the hospital would protect your future.  I knew that it was helping, even when it felt like hurting.  I pretended to be brave for you, I wore my strong mommy-mask, but on the inside I was terrified.  I smiled to your face, but I cried when you were asleep.

I think we have the strength of relationship that you believed me when I said it would be ok, and trusted me even though you didn’t understand.  My sweet little Adrian, I think you have forgiven me already for what we put you through.

I hope that as you mature in life, and in faith, you will begin to understand.  Jesus cried with us, too.  We babes can’t understand the reason for suffering.  But we must trust that God knows more than we can comprehend.  Parenthood is teaching me how a loving God allows his children to suffer; sometimes helping feels like hurting.  I love you now and forever, and I am sorry that I can’t always shield you from the pain of life.

I am proud of the way you have handled your trials, and I pray they will shape you into Godly men.  Forgive me if you think I did it wrong….I did my best for you, always for you, everything for you.

Love,

Mom

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