October 21, 2010

Bullying and Sexual Identity- A Parenting Perspective

As you might expect, I read a lot of other mothers' blogs.  A topic that has been much discussed this week is the recent rash of teen suicides.  So many teens in the last few months have committed suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying.  Not all of these kids were even gay, they were simply perceived as gay by their bullying peers.

You would be amazed what the mommy-blogosphere is saying.  One of the moms I read has an eight year old who is becoming a bully.  She's begun making all sorts of excuses, saying that bullying is really a result of a very confident child trying to contrast their own success against obvious failure.  That bullies are more popular, that they are more successful in life.  That the children who are bullied make themselves victims.  I can't even begin to tell you how much this view shocks and terrifies me.  I was bullied as a child, mercilessly.  I remember vividly contemplating suicide when I was eight and a half years old, because of how cruel the other children were.  And while that had nothing to do with my sexuality, it had to do with other elements of my personality I was just as incapable of changing.  I was teased about being Jewish, about being a vegetarian, about having glasses, about having curly hair... anything that bullies could come up with to use against me.  And I was not alone.  Children are a cruel lot once you get them in packs.

She's begun making all sorts of excuses, saying that bullying is really a result of a very confident child trying to contrast their own success against obvious failure.  That bullies are more popular, that they are more successful in life.  That the children who are bullied make themselves victims.

Another disturbing bit of reading I've done is by a mom who's blog is intended to debunk parenting news.  Her argument is that these kids are too young to be thinking about such issues as their own sexuality anyway, and the best thing that the adults in their lives can do is to discourage them from worrying about it in the first place.

Has she never been a teenager?  Can she honestly not remember the CONSTANT OBSESSION that teenagers have with sex?  They want to have it, they're frightened to have it, they want to know who's having it, when, how...  Take a look at any video store or library, teenagers want to watch movies and read books about other teenagers talking about or having sex, they want to learn everything possible about it, and figure out what sort of role sex is going to play in their lives.  There's constant speculation about who's doing what with whom, regardless of the orientation.  High schools have always been and will always be rife with speculation about which girls are easy, which boys are all talk and which have actually "gone all the way."

Not surprisingly, the kids who are the cruelest during those teen years are the ones that are least comfortable with their own sexuality.  Girls who feel demeaned in their own sexual experiences are the fastest to label other girls "slut," boys who are the most frightened of their own potentially homosexual urges the first in line to shout slurs or beat up a boy they might see as effeminate, even if they haven't outed themselves as gay.

Can she honestly not remember the CONSTANT OBSESSION that teenagers have with sex?

We as a culture are beginning to understand more and more that our assumptions about what it means to be gay are not true.  Two thirds of Americans are ready to welcome gays into the military, because we understand that they're not limp wristed girly men who run from a fight, but patriots- no different from any other patriot that wants to serve their country.

But the fact of the matter is that kids are killing themselves because of bullies.  Now.  They're not only being bullied for being gay, but homosexuality is one of the last bastions of fundamental characteristics that many adults seem to think is still WRONG.  In most of this country, you can't bully a kid for being black, or Catholic, or a girl... but homosexuality is another story.  How many of those homophobic bullies have a parent who would support them if they went to Prom with somebody of the same gender?  How many of those parents would try to accept their child's confession that they believe they were born with the wrong reproductive organs?

I've spoken with M several times about what we would do if one of our girls was being bullied, and what we would do if they were bullying.  I know I would cry bitter tears for any child my child victimized.  I also know what I would tell my girls if somebody bullied them.  And it's something I desperately want to tell to all these teenagers, gay, straight, or just plain odd, who face the bullying daily:

Assault, hate crimes, these are the things children get away with in the name of youthful exuberance.

This is not about you.  They're not making fun of you or hurting you because of anything true- and if it is true, it's only a coincidence.  They've decided to make you a target and that's not fair, but it means nothing.  They could tell the other kids that you're an alien from Mars, and get the other kids to beat you up for being an alien from Mars.  It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, it doesn't matter if you're tall or short or smart or stupid, they'll pick any reason out of the air and they will bully you for it, but it does not define you.  You are not what they say you are, and what they're saying you are is unworthy of their respect.  Nothing more meaningful than that.  You are a human being, and you're a kid, and that means that life is not fair and that life is hard, but you will all get a little older, and this will end.  These horrible people who make you feel ashamed to be you, they'll turn into regular old adults, and you'll be a regular old adult, and they won't dare say these things.  Because when adults do this, it's called a hate crime.  You might not be able to stop them, but the end is in sight.  All you have to do is grow up.

The last thing I would say is that I am so sorry I couldn't do more to make this a better world for you.  For my daughters, for every kid that's bullied past the breaking point, I wish to God I could have made this a better world for you.

I plead with all of you parents out there, please don't turn a blind eye to facts of your child's life.  If you child is a bully, don't ignore it.  Don't make excuses.  Because if this was behavior an adult was engaging in, they would be in jail.  Assault, hate crimes, these are the things children get away with in the name of youthful exuberance.  Would you stand by your adult child in court as they were prosecuted for beating up homosexuals, telling the judge and their victims that it's just an overabundance of confidence?  Would you tell your twenty two year old daughter that she really doesn't need to think about whether or not she's a lesbian because it's time to get a job and focus on her career?  No.  Because once your kids are adults, you have to accept that their adult behavior is largely out of your control.

It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, it doesn't matter if you're tall or short or smart or stupid, they'll pick any reason out of the air and they will bully you for it, but it does not define you.

But your child's behavior is NOT out of your control.  You can make it right.  You can at least TRY to make it right.

I hope against hope that when my girls are grown, they will have the freedom to love whoever they choose.  Sure, part of me wants my kids to have the same sorts of experiences that I had- and those were largely heterosexual experiences.  But I also want them to be happy, and most of all true to themselves.  Because what kind of happiness is it to live a lie?

Part of me would genuinely rather my girls were bullied than that they were bullying others, because I just don't know how I would fix that problem.  I hope I never have to learn.  But I do hope they never have to endure the bullying that I did, or that those poor dead teenagers did.  I hope that in the next decade, the rest of humanity wises up a bit and realizes that children are people too, and that it is NOT acceptable for people to treat other people as anything less than an equal human being.

October 9, 2010

Baby Birthdays

DD and SI eating their first cake

A little over a week ago, my darling daughters celebrated their first birthday.  I threw them a big party- the biggest we've had since M finished his chemotherapy.  The girls behaved beautifully, our friends and family seemed to have a really lovely time... all in all it was a fabulous party.

The girls seemed to know that it was an important time.  During the week that included their birthday, DD learned to walk, SI started making animal noises, they both cut new teeth, and caught their first really nasty colds.

I had thought that when they turned a year old, I would mellow out a little bit.  I thought I'd relax about toys in their cribs, about blankets they want to sleep with, and about them staying safe and asleep in their cribs through the night. 
SI and DD opening their present from Mommy and Daddy

I hadn't counted on the inexhaustible potential of the internet to make me worry and essentially freak out in every way.  I learned just after their birthday that a dear friend of mine lost her niece.  She was eleven months old, and died of SIDS.  I found out through my friend's journal, and it has tormented me.

I can't even begin to describe the emotions that I've been running through.  I had it in my head that if my girls made it to their first birthday, that was sort of... it.  They would be done being babies, they would be safe.  They would start walking, begin talking in complete sentences, and I could rest assured that from then on they would grow up peacefully.  I somehow got it into my brain that when they were a year old, the whole phase of constantly worrying that I was going to open their bedroom door in the morning and find them dead was OVER.  Only little babies die of SIDS, not toddlers... right?

DD on Daddy's shoulders
My heart has been breaking for my friends' cousin.  To lose a child... I can't even begin to understand the kind of pain that family must be going through.  I know how much I loved my children one month ago.  I was already planning their big party, inviting their grandparents and aunts and uncles and everyone who loves them.  To have lost one of my girls a month ago, just one month from that huge landmark birthday... it's too horrible to contemplate.  It was such a shock to my system- to my mommy mentality that had just been glowing about how big and strong and smart my kids were.  Wasn't that little girl also big and strong and smart?  Wasn't she also learning to walk and talk, to play more complicated games with her parents and give less slobbery kisses and pick out favorite toys and foods?

Aren't all of our kids big and strong and smart?  It isn't until the child starts to really assert their independence, pursue their own interests, and generally disagree with their parents on who they ought to be that they stop seeming like a perfect angel.  They're perfect potential, a tiny vessel of love and learning and joy.  Having a baby- not birthing, but having a baby- is a truly spiritual experience.  You get to watch a human being created from nothing- from a blank slate to an entire person.  And you can see how some things are your doing, how they learn skills that you've taught them, how they have your crooked smile, or your wonky little toes.  And then some things are entirely their own.  Somehow magically a part of this amazing person that was never there before.

I had thought that after their first birthday, I would rest more easily.  Instead I find myself checking their room as often as I did when they first got here, making sure that they're still breathing peacefully.  I quietly try to roll them back onto their backs in their sleep, which is an entirely fruitless endeavor.  I make sure the air is circulating, that I can hear them shift in their sleep through the baby monitor.  I think the whole time about my friend's cousin, and her daughter.  And in the morning when I see their beautiful faces so happy to see me, I want to weep with relief, and with sorrow for everyone who's discovered that they'll never see those smiling faces again.

SI playing with Poppa
In the past year, I've been truly blessed to watch two new people grow into wonderful little girls.  People who love to play, to read, to learn new things.  I've done my best to love them the same, to treat them the same, and to raise them into what I think are good little people.  And they haven't hardly needed my guidance in that.  But they are two completely different people.  They have their own ideas about themselves, about me and their daddy, and about each other.  My expectations about them have been met and exceeded and proven completely off.  And I end every day amazed that I have them in my life, grateful that they are here and they are so good, and sad that another incredible day has been lost, never to be revisited again.

One year and eight days ago, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning certain that my water had broken, and discovered to my horror that the bed was soaking in blood.  Seven hours and an emergency c-section later, I was holding the two most wonderful people I have ever known in my arms.  And they were perfect.  Tiny, tiny, perfect people.

It's been a one year and eight days now, and I haven't fallen out of love with them.  I still look at them and wonder, "Is that my smile?  Are those my eyebrows?"  I still wonder what each little action means- does SI's love for the little keyboard mean she'll be a musician?  Does DD's love of books and reading mean she'll be a scholar?  Are they learning to walk soon enough?  Should I worry that SI loves chocolate ice cream so much?

I get the feeling that this is just the state of being a mother.  Constant worry, constant joy and pride, and constant disbelief.  Constant disbelief that there are people in your life you can love so much.

Happy birthday, my beautiful little angels.  Happy first birthday.
October 1, 2009

October 6, 2010

Creepy Twin Things

I knew when I had twins that they would do twin things.  you hear about it all the time, what sort of telepathic link or strange associated actions they have.  You hear about the mythological associations with twins, the historical significance... people make a big deal out of twins.

And then you start to see, well, twin behavior.  And it kind of freaks you out.

Today I was working on some homework, and I heard a strange sort of sound coming from behind me.  Dead silence, with a rhythmic thumping.

I turned around and there were SI and DD, sitting next to a big cardboard box.  And what were they doing?  Sitting shoulder to shoulder, leaning forward together, and thumping the box with their inside hands in perfect unison.  Why?  I don't know.  How did they communicate to each other that they were going to do this?  I don't know.  The creepiest part- the looks of total concentration on their faces.  Whatever they were doing and why... it's a mystery to me, but it must have been important.

I don't generally find my children disconcerting.  But there was something extremely unnerving about that kind of behavior.  You hear about it a lot more in identical twins, and I'd been hearing for a long time now that twins tend to make up their own language, but this wasn't either of those.  This was dyzygotic twins (that's fraternal, not identical) doing something they should have had no business doing, and in a completely unspoken way.

What the hell was going on?

My father has given me a book  on this subject, "Indivisible by Two."  It's about real-life twins who's lives make up the same sort of stuff as these stories.

Twins are all over in mythology.  The ancient Aztecs thought that twins were back luck, and frequently killed one at birth.  The belief was that twins would eventually kill their parents.  However, their mythology is also filled with stories of hero twins.  So if they're not evil, they're very very very good... with super powers!

There are twins in Greek and Roman mythology as well.  Artemis and Apollo,Castor and Pollux, Remus and Romulus... There are twins in Judeo-Christian stories as well.  Jacob and Esau, for example.

People have always been fascinated with twins.  I never completely understood it until know, but I have to say I finally get it.  Twins can be just plain creepy.  I had thought that being a twin wouldn't be terribly different from having a sister nearly your age.  I grew up with a sister less than a year and a half in either direction.  We were very, very close.  And how different could it really be?  People have two babies in 11 months all the time... even if I think they're crazy.  I didn't think about twindom as being a truly unique relationship.  But It is.  Unique, and completely other to the experience of being a singleton.

I adore my girls.  I'm not scared of them, I'm not worried that this will effect their permanent social development somehow...

But twin babies... they do some creepy things.


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