Being Taught Your Place in the Gender Roles Game

How many times have you heard, “You’re a (insert gender here), that’s not how you’re supposed to behave…”? “Boys will be boys.” I even roll my eyes muttering “boys…” at my children. It’s a conditioned reaction that we’re just used to. The gender roles are very clear. Women tend to women things and men tend to man things. That’s just how it’s supposed to be.

I have been given awful looks when I mention that as soon as it was age appropriate, I taught my older son to do laundry. “But, he’s a boy…” Yes, but he’s a boy that’s going to be self-sufficient. His wife will thank me. I’m not going to do my adult son’s laundry if he never gets married nor do I think his wife should be forced to do it. My younger son now helps with laundry for the same reason. I get the same awful lectures when I mention how I’m teaching my older son to cook. I give the same reasons of self-sufficiency. How do I know he’s going to get married? I don’t believe in marriage so why should I force him to be?

I thought we had moved away from these ideals of traditional roles, but they still seem alive and well. “Why did you fix your screen window? You should’ve waited for your husband to do that.” Why should I have waited? It never would’ve gotten done and I wanted to be able to let fresh air in without bugs. I’m more than capable of it. My Mom never taught me to be demure. Or maybe she tried and my Dad told me to ignore her. I don’t even remember. But I definitely don’t remember ever wanting to be a princess waiting for a Prince Charming. Though there was a time when I wanted to be Phoebe from Mystic Quest. My Mom taught me the basics of sewing. I could hem pants, patch clothing, and fix buttons. My Dad, Mom, and older brother taught me how to cook. My Dad taught me about tools and bought me a tool set for a Mother’s Day present shortly before my husband and I bought our house. I was fortunate that my parents never really pushed those roles on me, though I have no idea how to mow a lawn but I’m not sure if it’s because they thought I was too weak as a girl to do it or because I’m so clumsy that they didn’t want to bother. It’s probably the latter.

I don’t believe in teaching my children about those traditional gender roles. Sure, they see that Mommy works from home and takes care of the kids while Daddy goes to work. Mommy cooks supper for everyone. Mommy is the one that comforts everyone while they’re sick and Daddy does yard work. Daddy handles the pest control situation of removing dead mice that our cat destroys or killing the earwig that scared Mommy out of the shower. But I will teach them everything that I can to turn them into modern men. They will be able to do their own laundry, and even offer to take care of their partner’s as well. They will learn to respect women, that they are not there to be their slaves. They will not raise their hand to a woman or disrespect them when they say “no”. They will learn about consent. They will learn that being manly isn’t about knocking a woman down or “putting her in her place”. Women are not to be controlled or manipulated just like women should not control and manipulate men. Relationships are partnerships, not ownerships.

My boys will learn to be self-sufficient, respectful men who are going to change the world for the better. I want them to know that being sensitive and compassionate isn’t a weakness. That Dads can cook, do laundry, and take care of babies. That around the home, there’s no such thing as “man’s work”. That in the real world, they need to respect a female boss just as they would a male one. My hope, is that other parents do as well. There is such a focus on “teaching little girls”, but I feel like there’s not enough about “teaching little boys”. All kids should learn to take care of themselves. Girls should know as much about cooking as they do about fixing a pipe in the kitchen (within reason; some jobs are better left for professionals). Women shouldn’t have to wait for their husbands to fix a clogged toilet or a cabinet door. Kids should all have a well-rounded education in “how to function and be self-sufficient” no matter what their gender is.

 

 

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Just Breathe

I say this far too often on a daily basis. Before, I would say it to myself. Now, I have to say this to myself and my youngest son. Sometimes, when I use this affirmation for both of us when I’m trying to pass it off as using it just for him. I’m okay with that if you are. When breathing doesn’t work, I shrug it off until I get my 15 minutes alone in the shower after my workout. Crying in the shower is the most effective approach. If anyone asks, I could say I just got soap or shampoo in my eye again. It happens a lot naturally, so it’s pretty perfect. I’m a clumsy person.

My son doesn’t have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. He has a “sensory integration disorder”. I’m certain that if I mentioned it to my doctor, which will probably happen at his yearly, that he would get the diagnosis. My own experiences, in addition to everything I learned in college in my child development/teaching/psych classes, make me very certain of it. He picks his eyelashes and eyebrows out and sometimes pinches himself. After suggesting that he didn’t do these things, he started to obsessively pick his nose. As disgusting as that was, it was better than the alternative. I chose to pick my battles. He freaks out over seemingly bizarre things, like when we were fixing a light in the house he suddenly thought that the house was falling and going to explode. (Anxious with an active imagination? He is my boy.) I answer “What happens if…” questions all day long. I’m not an expert, but the signs seem pretty clear to me.

In the past, he had crying fits that, no exaggeration, could last for up to 4 hours. Sometimes longer. The original thought was these were caused by his inability to communicate with us. (In my book, “A Special Place for Noah”, these parts were true.) It was stressful. If my husband and I didn’t have a strong bond before having kids, I think this would have easily broken us. He had another neuropsych eval, got a diagnosis of sensory integration disorder, and that was that. It was never mentioned again. His anxiety was just caused by being overwhelmed by his surroundings. He’d grow out of it when he was around 6 or 8 they said.

He’s 6 now. The past few days have been rough. Going to school causes tears suddenly, reverting him back to those fits from back in preschool. He won’t let go of my leg. I’m no longer allowed to walk with him behind the school due to “safety concerns for the other kids” (which is funny considering they cut back on attendants outside) so I have to leave him right before the back. Instead of leaving, I stand there while my 6 year old cries and won’t let go of me. This has caused the new part-time VP and one of the paraprofessionals to have to take him back for me. Every day he’s fine until that point. He has focusing issues in school and has had more of these moments in class.

This leaves me in a terrible position. I know this needs to be addressed. My worry is that too many doctors jump straight to drugging my child. I’d rather solve the problem as much as possible without medicine. I’m not anti-science. I’m pro-vaccination. I’m anti-potentially giving my child medicines that could actually alter his brain’s chemical makeup while it is still developing. How many studies have been done on the end result of medicating young children? I mostly manage my own anxiety issues through my work and through my hobbies, like exercising and knitting/crafting/art things. Being able to focus on those things occupies my mind so I don’t have to medicate. I don’t want a zombie for a child. I want my child to be as active as he’s supposed to be. I want to do whatever I can for him. But I’m at such a loss right now.

Now, it’s a waiting game. I have to meet with the teacher, scrounging up what I can from his old IEP in case she couldn’t find it in his records. Maybe listening to her and figuring out what his trigger is to help him cope better with it. (It’s my experience that you can’t avoid everything that makes you anxious, though I do this as often as I can get away with. I’m an emotionally unhealthy person. I’m okay with this too.) His physical is scheduled late due to a new system at the office, which caused me to be too late to schedule his appointment even though it was 6 months out like normal. Hopefully he lasts until November. I have to hope that maybe a switch will just flip again like last time, where it suddenly stopped happening. Instead, I have to sit around worrying about what I’ve done wrong. Did I not give him enough attention? Do I spoil him with too much attention? Was I too strict? Was I not strict enough? That’s what we do as parents, isn’t it? We sit there and blame ourselves when it’s really just how they are. We all have to adjust. In fact, parenting is equal parts constantly adjusting and psychological warfare (which I also say is a huge part of marriage as well).

The point is… all of our kids have their own issues. You could sit down quietly about it and pretend your kid is perfect on social media and feel alone about it. Or you could talk about it as much as possible. My kid may not have issues as serious as others, but he has them. He’s smart, sarcastic, lovable, and funny but he’s anxious and compulsive and impulsive. He may get judged for his actions. But he’s mine. And I love him.

Did I Do the Best I Could?

“Did I do the best I could?”

That is the first question that I ask myself as I’m pulling back the blankets on my bed to attempt that sleep thing people keep telling me all about. I sit up, then flip on the television to see who’s streaming Overwatch or WoW since I ditched the cable box in the bedroom. I sit on the edge of my bed, watching them play and taking mental notes of “I didn’t think about doing it that way” or “I could never pull that move off”. Then my mind wanders back to the original question: “Did I do the best I could?”

Every day I ask myself this question, and it’s a general question. I want to remember if I drank enough water or if I did enough to exercise that day. Probably not, is the answer. Did I do anything that would help me be more successful as a writer? I didn’t. I probably started 5 mental projects and 2 “Google Drive” projects, maybe notes on NaNoWriMo with it coming up in 2 months. Those are the passing questions, ones that I don’t really bother to reflect on as much as I should.

When I ask myself this question, I have an understanding with myself that I’m talking about my kids. Did I do enough for them today? If you ask me, the answer is usually “no”. Maybe I didn’t feel like cooking them a healthy meal from the heart.. or any meal and I just got them fast food because I was too busy. Then I guilt myself into thinking that I have cheapened their day because I was too lazy. You’re a mom, you’re supposed to do it all right. The sink has dishes that I never washed, pushing it back a day so that I could have a 10 minute breather. Those dishes make me feel guilty. Seeing a mess in the house makes me feel like I’ve failed my family for the day. I think to myself “so what if the laundry stays in the dryer a day or 2, my kid wanted to go to the park so we did that instead.” Did I do enough?

When I’m trying to wrangle my very active son in Target while he races around trying to figure out which toy he wants, I get those looks. You know the, control your child looks. He’s not unattended. He’s not being disrespectful. He says “excuse me” and “sorry”. But he wriggles out of my hand. Did I do the best I could? When they don’t go to sleep when they’re supposed to, I wonder what I could have done differently. The answer usually comes back to: I’ve failed as a mother and people should take my kids because I’m obviously inept. I expect my children to do chores, then get angry comments about how I’m raising my children to be slaves. I failed again. I didn’t notice that my child once again has dirty ears, because for some ungodly reason I could wash them 20 times before we leave the house and it still happens. They don’t know about those 20 times, they just know my kid is dirty and I’m an incapable mother. I didn’t pay close enough attention that my child had a moth hole in his shirt, so I’m obviously neglectful. It doesn’t matter that I was doing what I could to get my child to wash his hands after using the bathroom before putting his hand in the cereal box while picking out his clothes for the day. Maybe I should have inspected the clothes before putting them in the closet.

It’s amazing how none of these failures are really failures. These are failures that other people have put in our heads. Our messy home means that we were too busy playing toys with our kids or engaging in conversation with them. Maybe we don’t have the time to clean, then chasing around our children to clean after their every move. Try that, it doesn’t work unless you have a nanny or maid helping you out. I try my best every day and I still come short of these goals, most of which have been placed on me by society and other people. I’m not perfect. I yell at my kids. I hide in a room in the house, wondering what horrible act I have committed for a day to be this horrible. I don’t sleep at night because sometimes I think about all of the ways I failed as a parent that day, then I think about past failures as a parent. Some nights I even fall asleep resigning myself to the fact that maybe I shouldn’t even be allowed to raise my kids because I’m obviously not cut out for it. That’s reality. That’s the reality that you don’t see on TV.

I’m not a perfect parent. Can anyone truly say that they are? All you can do is try. Guess what? You are going to fail sometimes; it’s what you do next that matters. You will lose your collective poop. There will be tears, most of which will be your own. That’s why you need to ask yourself “Did I do the best that I could?” If you did, that’s all that matters. Your kids don’t remember those little screw ups of having their hair not combed before getting on the bus or that time you accidentally zippered their face while walking to school because you were in a rush and they were still throwing a tantrum. They will remember that time they had stitches and you held their hand the entire time. They will remember that time you were the most “embarrassing” cheerleader. They remember the trips to the museum or the random walks to the park. They don’t remember the time you didn’t do the dishes because your child wanted to do an art project. They remember doing the art project and having that special moment with you. Stop worrying about what other people think, because they’re clueless. They don’t know your struggles that day to even get your kid to school. They don’t know you. What matters is your child giving you a hug and kiss, smiling as they say “I love you, good night.”

The First Day Hoax

It’s Back to School time in the LaRochelle household. The first day was an uneventful one, sending my youngest off to first grade. We held it together. I came home and my oldest made jokes about how quiet the house was without the youngest. I laughed. “Imagine how quiet it is without either of you.” We played some Overwatch and just enjoyed the day together. He would be starting his sophomore the next day. It was a fun last day.

The next morning, I heard him woke up just before 6. He wanted to take a shower to get rid of the smell of “teen boy”, just in case. He wanted to make an impression on his first day. When I went into the living room, he stood dutifully in front of the door for the obligatory first day photo that I was inevitably going to force. I wasn’t ready but he was, so I did it anyways. I wanted to start my coffee so I could pretend to function in the morning. I left the room to get my youngest son’s clothes out for the day. While in his room, I heard the door open. I screamed “What are you doing?! Wait!” I heard his laugh and his exasperated “Oh Mom.” He did wait. I looked at this not-so little young man with pride. “You have a good day. I love you so much.” He muttered “Ok Mom”, at least that’s what I heard. I yelled at him. “Really? That’s it.” I said. “What? I said I love you too.” He laughed. I told him to make me proud. He always did anyways, but I always want to make sure that he knew. Teenage years can be rough, after all.

After he left, the day went pretty uneventful after this. I got some work done, worked out lightly as my mouth still hurts a little from my last dental procedure. I played a little WoW. I looked at the clock when I went back to work to check the time. It was almost time to get my youngest from school. My oldest took the bus, so I didn’t have anything to worry about. I got out of my “work” sweatpants and put on some jeans and shoes. I then went on Facebook as I normally would to waste time before getting my youngest. I noticed the local police department had a post about an active crime scene. I thought about how many times I’ve seen that recently. I almost didn’t even pay attention to it until I noticed that it was at my oldest son’s school. A news alert came to my phone shortly after. My chest felt like an elephant just sat down on it. The pictures of cops everywhere and SWAT teams with full tactical gear on terrified me. All I knew was my kid should have been on a bus home and there was a “suspicious person”. I knew that this looked terrifying for me and I wasn’t even there.

I immediately texted my son. Nothing. I kept texting, hoping for something. I have never been this scared in my entire life. While waiting for my younger son at his school, I listened to everyone talk about what they knew. I didn’t know anything. They were talking about a shooter, injuries. I was getting more scared, clutching my phone hoping for something. Facebook messenger popped up. It wasn’t him, but I was happy to have a distraction even for a moment. Every second that passed without any news made me more anxious. I kept checking on Facebook, hoping for an update. For something. Finally an hour later, they were evacuating the school. I texted again. Still nothing. I decided to try my nephew, who also attends the school. “Oh yeah, I have him right here with me. We’re okay.” Those words have never sounded sweeter to me. The teacher made him leave his bag and phone in the classroom. At least I know why I couldn’t talk to him. My nephew told me not to worry about picking him up. He would bring him home for me. “Family first”, he said to me. He’s right. A short time after that, around 4pm and 2 hours after the incident first began, I finally got a call from the school. Pickup would be at the elementary school next door. Their stuff would remain in the school. It was still an active crime scene after all. They would let us know when the kids could get their stuff. I didn’t care about the stuff. I wanted my son home.

I waited, standing in the doorway in between pacing around the house. He is going to be 16 soon, my oldest son. I wanted to hold him like he was my little baby again. This time though, it would be more for my comfort than his. I saw him and his cousin pull up. I ran out and hugged him so hard. I wanted to cry. But, this was his traumatic day not mine. My tears could wait until he wasn’t around. That’s the thing though, right? If something is traumatic for our children, it ends up being almost as traumatic to us.

After all of this, it turns out the whole thing was a hoax. Some terrible, pathetic excuse of a human being just wanted to get their kicks and cause a scene. That may be true. Or it may just be a troubled kid who needs help. I don’t care. I want to punch this person so hard in the face. Because I’m angry, not stupid. That kid (let’s face it, it probably is some dumb teenager) for whatever reason, made me imagine such awful situations. I’m a writer. I have a very creative imagination. And I watch a lot of Criminal Minds and ID. Those aren’t things that mix well in times like these. I hope the book gets thrown so hard at this kid. I hope they go to jail for a very long time. The State police showed up. Full SWAT, a substantial amount of police, and EMTs were there. The wasted resources that could have been life or death if there was another problem in the city, for what? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

I’m fortunate though; it was a hoax. My kid wasn’t getting slaughtered as people have been far too often lately. My kid came home safe without a physical mark. I’m not sure if there is anything emotionally wrong with him right now, but I will keep a very close eye on him. My kid came home. That is everything. This hoax wasn’t funny. Hours later, I write this and I’m still anxious. I’m still terrified and shaking. By the time this posts on Tuesday, I will still be wondering if I should send my kid back to school. I have enough of an education to home school; I nearly was a teacher after all. I can do this right? I can’t though. I can’t protect him forever, and that kills me.

As a final note, the local and state police responded quickly. Had there been a real threat, they would have made the incident less tragic. I’d love to thank them for the amazing job. Our kids are that much safer because of your amazing strength and courage.

Amid the Parenting Struggles, It’s the Little Things

There are little things that parents who have had “normal” children take for granted. It’s ok. I get it. My oldest child has always been, and is still in a lot of ways, the “perfect” child. He’s so well-behaved that it feels like I have to pick at something small to make him seem worse than he is. Sure, he doesn’t help out around the house as much as I’d like but what teenager really does? He gets straight As, has a plan for college, and is pretty much loved by everyone who meets him. He won’t even pull out his phone in class without asking permission first. He is just too good. He crawled, walked, and spoke well before the milestones said he would. He could read at an early age and was reading at a college level before he went into middle school. He’s smart, athletic, and adorable. And most importantly, he’s kind and protective.

It’s a shock to go from that to a “abnormal” child. I use the quotes in both cases because I’m using society’s definition. No child is normal or abnormal. They just do things their own way. My youngest started following the same trends, hitting most of his motor skill milestones as early as his brother or in some cases earlier. I had no idea that there was going to be a problem. I knew at some point before his first birthday that he didn’t say his first word. By that time, my oldest had already started 2 word sentences. I didn’t think about it. Every kid is different. Milestones, blah blah. Except by 2, he was still practically non-verbal.

When I wrote “A Special Place for Noah”, I reiterated a simple point: every little thing matters. The joy I feel every time my youngest looks me in the eyes to have a conversation with me just can’t be described. He’s engaged. He makes eye contact. Even at 3 by the time he started preschool, he still barely spoke or looked anyone in the eyes. It’s tough knowing that you are doing everything that you are supposed to and still sucking at  your one job. He went from not speaking, to speaking at us, to now actively engaging in conversation. He reads visual cues from an expression on our faces. He’s empathetic, comforting his friends. He plays with kids now, not just next to them.

It seems silly to other parents that don’t understand. They don’t understand that every time a child makes eye contact with you, when they spent so much time avoiding it, is a huge moment. Any time that they don’t have a meltdown because their routine was messed up in some way is a huge moment. All of these little things matter. I don’t care if you think I’m ridiculous in celebrating these little things. Great, your child was potty trained by 2 and speaks exceedingly well for their age. Guess what? That perfect mom isn’t telling you all of the story, only the parts that makes her look like supermom. I used to look at my youngest after seeing posts like that and wondered how I screwed this all up. But I didn’t. I did everything I could. I’m doing everything that I can do. That’s enough for me to go to sleep fine at night.

Some kids just have a slower path but eventually they all get where they were meant to. Sometimes you just have to remember that everyone is different, some requiring a bit more time and patience.

Mom Confessions: The Sad Truth

We’re not perfect as moms. If we were, we wouldn’t need to judge other moms so much. Talking to that mom who looked at me as if I were abusing my child for not babywearing. Those things are way to expensive and the ones that aren’t, I just didn’t have the patience to deal with. It’s ok. My children turned out just fine despite my poor decisions of formula feeding/bottle feeding breast milk and putting ketchup on everything even if it disgusts me because sometimes that’s the only way to get a kid to eat something.

We all have those dirty little secrets as parents/spouses. I’m here to admit mine.

  • Sometimes I lock myself into the bathroom or my bedroom. I don’t do it to cry. I do it because I secretly bought myself a treat and boys are ravenous beasts that sense you enjoying food and just magically appear. No, those Lindt chocolates are just for me and I do not feel guilty sitting on my bathroom floor to enjoy them in peace.
  • I bring my youngest to school early on rainy days. He’s only been late once, due to a doctor’s appointment. But on rainy days, I make sure I get there as soon as possible. Not for any other reason then to get rid of him quicker, especially on his more difficult days. I’m sorry to his teachers, but you spend enough time with him to get it.
  • I don’t cry in front of the kids. Not to teach them a lesson about holding your emotions in, because I think that’s unhealthy. It’s because they can sense that weakness to destroy you. It is my job to destroy them not the other way around.
  • I promise things to my kids as a reward for their good behavior. The thing is… they are already going to get it but this way I can make them do chores without complaining. You’d be surprised how well this works.
  • I sneak their PopTarts and then when they complain about someone else eating them, I point out how much they mindlessly eat food all day long and eventually they remember eating them. I don’t like PopTarts, but sometimes  you need something sweet with your morning coffee.
  • I let my husband win the rare fights that we have. Not because I think I’m supposed to be submissive. Not because I’m the better person, because I’m definitely not. But because I know that I can hold it over him in the long run when I really need it. A successful marriage is about the long game.
  • I don’t negotiate with terrorists. You want to throw a tantrum to get what you want, call grandma. It isn’t happening here.
  • I am the God of the house. By that I mean, I can and will steal the router and make them suffer.
  • I view parenting as a very minor case of psychological warfare. I know their weaknesses and I’m not afraid to use them. That’s right, it goes both ways.

Remember, it’s fine. Don’t let other people tell you how to live your life. You’re not perfect and that’s perfectly ok.

 

I’m a Failure as a Mother

With mother’s day approaching, it is important to talk about mothers. I saw a joke that said “Dads can do so little and get credit for it. Women can do something little and become villains for it.” It’s true though, isn’t it? “Oh… you formula fed your child? You must not love them enough to sacrifice your time and energy to nurse.” “What do you mean that you like to cover up when you nurse? Do you like eating with a hood over your head?” First of all, I do. In fact, I have a hood on over my head while eating a PopTart that my son didn’t finish but I couldn’t bring to throw away while children are starving while drinking a coffee. (deep breath) “Oh, you don’t baby wear?” “Oh, you’re babywearing wrong, you’re a freaking monster.” I could really go on and on about this, but I feel that my sarcasm got the point across just fine so far.

Most days, I think I have my stuff together. I nail my work deadlines. My kids are doing well in school and their various activities. But my house is a literal disaster zone most days but I only have so much energy to clean when I know 10 minutes later a teenager and a 5-year-old are going to tear through the area and destroy everything that I have worked so hard for. It’s like building a nice card house; it took you forever and it only takes 2 seconds to have a room full of cards. Luckily my kids are nice to me, they skip the card house and just throw the cards, the box, and anything else that they can on the floor. It’s more efficient that way.

I cook good meals, most days. Some days I give up and just make mac & cheese because I gave up on life that day. But I try really hard. Most of the time, it’s nothing organic though. That’s way to expensive and confusing to me, plus I’m certain organic is just used as a marketing ploy to steal my money. I’m too smart for that, mostly.

Most days, I feel like a failure. That’s easy when your kids learn to say “You’re the worst mom ever.” I know, how dare I expect you to do things like wear pants. I go downstairs and see a basket of laundry that I swore I was going to bring upstairs yesterday to fold and put away. I’m pretty sure that basket is still downstairs. I don’t even remember anymore. My youngest thinks his clothes just magically appear in his closet. Which doesn’t matter because his clothes are apparently not good enough anyways.

Through all of the tears (mostly mine), it’s hard not to feel like a failure. You could do 100000 things right during the day and in the one moment you fail, you think that you really are the worst mom in the world. Here’s a little secret though: You’re probably not. I always tell my friends (and myself) when we’re having those “slump days” as moms, remember these things:

  • Did you try to feed your kid?
  • Did you try to wash your kid?
  • Did you try to read to them/spend some quality time with them?
  • Did you all make it through the day relatively unscathed?

Then you did it. All you can do is try. I served my kids an amazing meal. I can’t force them to eat it. That’s not my failure. They were picky that day. They can fend for themselves if they don’t want it. Is my kid wearing the only two socks that were remotely clean, maybe not really and they don’t match? Probably. Does that mean I’m a failure? Not to me, he was given breakfast, hugs, kisses, and is off to school on time with only a few tears from both of us. My sanity was mostly intact. Does that mean I’m a failure to you? Probably, but I did mention that I have a teenager and 5-year-old right? I don’t care if I’m a failure to you. I don’t have time to.

Happy Mother’s Day, because even if everything has gone wrong today they still love you the next.