Monday, March 25, 2013

Dear Moe (37 Months)

Hi, sweetie. Sorry this letter is almost a week late. It’s been a busy time, and I haven’t really felt like writing in the evenings. 

We have had a lovely month together. We’ve been very social, with visits to and from lots of people. 

We had a great playdate with Koen at his house. You were enthralled by his crazy-huge motorized marble run. You tasted popcorn for the first time, and were all over it. And you and Koen had a wonderful time sharing each other’s toys, like your Batmobile and his bowling set. (Side note: At bedtime, you get to choose two books from your shelf. Some of them are books of poetry. When you pick one of those, I tell you, “This is a book of poems.” Inevitably, you ask, incredulously, “This is Koen’s book?”) 

We had a wonderful visit from Tia Reiko, Tio Rodrigo and your cousin Isabel over March Break. We were so happy to spend time with them. Isabel made you a huge snow fort in the backyard, and you both had a great time playing there. You loved showing Tia your slick moves on your plasma car and all your favourite things at the Science and Technology Museum, and Tio Rodrigo was mesmerizing with his magic tricks and his uncanny ability to blow on a window to make the flags outside start moving. You really enjoyed having them here. There were staying at Granny's, so we spent a lot of time there. We stopped by there again the other day, and you hadn't been over since they left. You walked into the living room, looked around at the empty couch and chairs, and said, “Where did everybody go?” 

As you get older and play more with your friends (as opposed to alongside them), you are learning all kinds of important social lessons. One day this month when I picked you up from daycare, I asked you how your day was, and you responded sadly that “Nobody was friendly to me today.” As this was a very different answer than what I am used to hearing, I called Robin to find out what might have happened to make you say that. She told me that you have started seeing some of your friends almost as security blankets, and when they want to play on their own without you, you feel quite rejected. So we’ve worked on making you understand that everybody needs time to play on their own sometimes, and it doesn’t mean they don’t like you or aren’t being friendly. It’s going very well, and you are feeling much happier about your place at daycare. 

There are a few things we’ve been focusing on this month. One is your very dramatic use of hyperbole. For example, you might ask to spread the honey on your toast, but be told by Daddy that you have to wait for the toast to finish toasting first. You would then tearfully complain to me that “Daddy won’t let me put honey on my toast!” (One of my favourites was, “Mommy won’t let me do ANYTHING!”) So we started using the phrase “drama llama” (adapted from the book “Llama Llama, Mad at Mamma”) to describe this behaviour. We also ask you to “change your attitude”. You have since become much better at not being a little drama llama, and we appreciate it. 

We have also been focusing on “being friendly,” a term that comes from Robin, and means not taunting people, using potty talk, or calling people names. (Robin explains to you and the other kids that name calling isn’t a “friendly” thing to do. We’ve adopted the same words.) You have made great strides in this lately, too. Typically, these phases only last about a week or two, and with hard work on both our parts, you learn that the behaviour isn’t appropriate or appreciated. 

And finally, we’re working hard again on saying please and thank you. It seemed time for a refresher. A lot of your requests were becoming very demanding, and rather unpleasant. You’ve made great progress, and I’m sure that as we continue to work at it, you’ll get better and better about it. 

I hope this doesn’t sound like you’ve been a total pill, because you aren’t. You are still a lovely, charming boy. You are very polite, you love to tell people, “Have a good day!” (even when they are leaving in the evening). You love to be silly and funny. When we put your socks on, you love it when we put the second sock over the first one, or when we pretend that we don’t know where the second sock goes. (“Does it go on your ear? No? It doesn’t? Oh, it must go on your elbow!”) 

You give fantastic hugs, kisses and cuddles. You love to “hide” and have us find you, only to “scare” us by roaring. You make a great dinosaur. Daddy sometimes carries you around as his own portable dinosaur, and you roar at things (and people) to scare them. It’s hilarious. You also do a great impression of the tiniest dinosaur, who says “roar” in a teeny-tiny little voice. You have the best laugh. 

At night, when I leave your room, you often say, “Goodnight, Mommy! I love you! You’re a banana!” (We have Elephant and Piggie to thank for that.) 

You love it when Daddy builds you a fort in the living room. You bring all your stuffies and cars inside and love having a little snack in there, and if you can see the TV from inside the fort, well, your cup runneth over. 

You can be a bit shy with other people. If I prompt you to tell someone something (i.e.: “Can you tell her where we went today?”) and you are feeling a little unsure, you have the best phrase. You look at me and ask, quietly, “Mom, can you talk about it?” That lets me know that you're not 100% comfortable yet, and would like me to keep bridging the gap a bit longer.  

We don’t rock in the rocking chair anymore, except if you wake up in the middle of the night and really need extra consolation. We do stories and songs in your bed instead. You have expressed interest in not wearing a diaper during naptime, but you also won’t let us take down the bedrail, so we’re at a bit of an impasse there. (I need to know you can get to the potty without trouble before I put you into bed without a diaper.) 

Keeping a little boy from being exposed to guns and gun play acting is like trying to stop the ocean with a teaspoon. You have started talking about “shooters” and “shooting”. You have also once or twice made reference to “killing” and “dying” (without any idea of what you are saying). Part of me knows that I can’t stop this and that it’s normal, part of me mourns your total innocence in this regard, part of me wants to put you in a bubble, and part of me wonders how to deal with it all. The best I can do is teach you that when you are playing “shooting”, you are playing something that (in real life) hurts people very badly, or even makes them die. I’m muddling through it, and hoping that if I just focus on respect and compassion, I won’t go wrong. 

We did have our first discussion about death this month. We went to the Agriculture Museum to see the baby animals, and you asked where Eeyore the Donkey was. He has always been a favourite of yours - he was less intimidating than the horses and cows, you associated him with Winnie the Pooh, and you loved to say hello to him. I had to explain to you that Eeyore died over the winter, which raised questions about where he has gone. Granny and I handled the conversation really well, I think, and you seemed pretty nonplussed about it. Of course, when we went out to lunch with some friends afterwards, you told them with great gusto that Eeyore died, and I had to provide a bit to context lest you sound like a psychopath. 

Your routine has been a bit disrupted this month. I was on leave from work for about two weeks to give myself some time to take care of myself better, and you got quite used to having me around in the mornings. So when I went back to work, you were kind of sad that I wasn’t there anymore. And Daddy has been in Boston for the last six days, so you have missed him quite a bit, too. But we’ve been Skyping with him (and - bonus last night - with Aunt Kimmy, Uncle Luc, Caleb and Noah) and that’s been lovely for everyone. 

We’ve had great museum outings, including one to the Museum of Nature where we ran into Amelia and her family. While we were there, you met her friend, who has the same name as you. You were pretty tickled about it. 

You experienced a real milestone this month - Robin took you to your first movie in a theatre. It was a quiet Friday, and there were only three of you at daycare, so she bussed you to Rainbow Cinemas to see Wreck-It Ralph. She had no idea it was your first movie in a theatre, and I think my face betrayed me a little bit when she told me about it when I picked you up. I’m glad you got the opportunity to go, and I’m so glad that Robin takes you on these great adventures. But I was feeling a little sad because I’d always pictured myself taking you to your first movie theatre experience. (Ah, the guilt of the working mommy.) I’m glad you had fun, though. You reported back joyfully that you had some slushie and some popcorn, and that made me smile. 

I’ve registered you for a gymnastics class, which starts in a couple of weeks. You love being physical, doing “tricks” and “cool things” with your body - balancing, hopping, tumbling, jumping. So it seemed like a good idea. And then you saw the “Gymtastic Gymnastics” episode of Curious George and you were hooked. I really hope you like the class, Moe, and that you can enjoy the confidence that comes with being good at something, and the joy of working at something until you succeed. 

I found a great app that teaches you to write your letters, and you are getting really good at it. You have great letter recognition (you can do the whole alphabet, in and out of context) and you love to count things, too. The fact that you love to learn makes everything so much fun. 

YOU are so much fun. Even this past week, when I’ve been pretty mentally and physically exhausted by the end of the day, it isn’t hard to remind myself that overall, you are a good listener, a polite boy, a loving child and a total sweetheart. You have a great sense of humour (even when it is potty humour - Daddy told me a great story about a hilarious pun you made), and your smile lights up the room. Keep being awesome, keep learning, keep teaching us, and keep being so easy to love. 

Bonus: The Potty Pun 
You were singing the alphabet song to Daddy about a week ago. You sang, “...j-k-l-m-n-o-...POO...q-r-s...” and sort of gave Daddy this mischievous little look, as if to say, “Did you catch that? See what I did there? Get it?” Daddy didn’t want to encourage the potty humour, but he had to admit it was a great pun. We killed ourselves laughing about it later. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Teaching My Son to See Past Rape Culture

The Stubenville rape trial has been everywhere lately: in the media, on blogs, Twitter, my Facebook feed, and in my thoughts. 

I've read a lot of articles and blog posts, and participated in online discussions about various aspects of this trial and the issues it has raised. I've discussed these issues with people close to me and with strangers from a variety of backgrounds. I've made the terrible mistake of reading the comments on news articles. I've shared some of these articles and blog entries within my own social media circles.

But in the last week, I realized there are a few things I feel the need to say. 

I feel no pity for rapists. I don't feel sorry for the two "promising young men" whose lives have been "forever changed" by the rape trial verdict.  I am disgusted by the way many mainstream media outlets have chosen to cover the trial, painting the rapists as victims and barely mentioning the actual rape victim except to mention that she was drunk and has a history of lying. 

But it has me thinking. What happened in the lives of these two young men that made them think that digitally penetrating somebody who was too drunk to know what they were doing, much less consent to it, was OK? What made them think that it was a good idea to sexually assault someone, take photos of the victim, and then joke about it in text messages? What made their friends think it was acceptable to share those photos? And, most importantly, what can I do to make sure that wherever Moe goes in his life, he is 100% secure in the knowledge that this kind of behaviour is not only wrong, but reprehensible? And what can I do now, when he's only three years old, to start making this message clear?

I'll tell you what I, along with my wonderful parenting partner, am already doing. 

We are doing our best to make sure Moe is in charge of his own body. That means that if we are tickling him, holding him, kissing him or cuddling him and he tells us not to, WE STOP. And if any of our friends are doing these things to him and he asks them not to, we ask them to listen to him immediately. If he wants you to put him down, put him down. If he doesn't want you to hug him, stop hugging him. 

We insist that he says goodbye to people when they leave, but he has the option of either giving them a hug, a high five, or props. We will ask him, "Would you like to give this person a hug?" but he is allowed to say no, and we don't make a big deal about it if he does. He never has to hug someone if he doesn't want to. Not even me. 

So, please, please, please. If you are hanging out with my son, ask him, "Can I give you a hug?" before giving him a hug. Ask him, "Can I kiss you?" before kissing him. And if he says no, please respect that and offer an alternative, like a high five or a fist bump. 

Because how on earth is a child supposed to learn that you shouldn't touch someone if they don't want you to if he or she is constantly being touched without his or her consent?

The other issue that has been weighing on my mind is the result of a Facebook thread on a friend's wall. The thread became very heated because rape is a contentious topic and people have a lot of very powerful feelings about it. A few people were basically saying that my opinion was worth less than theirs because I have never been raped. 

There are so many problems with this statement. 

First of all, how on earth do you know if I've ever been raped or not? Don't assume I have, and don't assume I haven't. I have never stated whether I've been sexually assaulted because personally, I don't feel that it's really anyone's business but my own. Also, when it comes to expressing my thoughts about issues like rape, consent, and rape culture,  WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? I am a human being, and I have every right to have my opinion heard. Telling me that my opinion is worth less than yours because of my sexual past, my gender, or my sexual orientation is about as logical as saying that your opinion is worth more because I can't drive standard. You may not agree with me, but don't devalue my words because of who you think I am. 

We can't have a dialogue if we start with the assumption that one person's opinion is worth more than another's. 

And finally, I've seen a number of people indicate that they hope that the two rapists from Stubenville suffer a similar fate when they go to prison. 

Wishing that these men will be raped in prison is condoning rape. And that is what the other teens were doing when they shared photos of the victim, and that is what mainstream media are doing when they talk about what a pity it is that these "promising young men are losing their bright futures". I don't wish sexual assault on anyone - not even rapists. Rape is never right, never just, never deserved. 

If I am going to teach my son to see past the culture of rape in which we live, he has to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that forcing himself on someone else without their expressed consent is always, always wrong, no matter who that person is.

In order to teach our children to respect other people, we have be respectful of them and of others at all times. Even when you want to tickle them. Even when you're dragging them into a time out. Even when they have been dawdling for 20 minutes and they won't climb the fucking stairs and holy shit, kid, bedtime was half an hour ago and just go upstairs already. 

It's a tall order, and nobody's perfect, but if we keep "respect and compassion" as our goal, we're starting in the right place.