Sunday, May 27, 2012


Two or three weeks ago, Thumper and I had the following conversation. It arose from a few different incidents:

Rodius: "If a boy hits you, you use words and tell him you don't like that. If he keeps hitting you, you can defend yourself. If a girl hits you, you never ever hit her back, you just get away. Because girls are special and magical, and it's our job as boys and men to honor and respect girls and women."

Thumper: "Uh, Dad?"

R: "Yeah, buddy?"

T: "Girls aren't magical."

Aerie very much enjoyed this line of thinking and has a few times reinforced it by saying things like, "Hey, buddy, tell Grandma: What are girls?"

And he rolls his eyes, sighs, and says, "Magical." Clearly he is not completely sold on this line of thinking.

It's easy to see why he has a hard time seeing the magic. The girls in the neighborhood are of the 7-, 8-, and 9-year-old variety, and now that he's crossed the line from adorable baby to annoying little kid, they're not nearly as kind or tolerant as they used to be. They lie to him. They trick him. They gang up on him. They tell him to go away. They play mean games in which they either try to get him to eat something disgusting or convince him that he has to marry one of them.

For some time, it tormented him, and me, when they treated him this way. He so desperately wanted to be around them that he continued to follow them around even though they weren't very nice. I didn't want to cramp his style or make him look even more like a baby by interfering, but sometimes I couldn't hold my tongue. And eventually, he began to realize that they weren't nice to him, and he started to want to do other things than play outside in the afternoon. We found alternatives like playgrounds and friends' houses in the afternoons where he could play with kids closer to his own age who didn't try to get him to eat "black bean soup" (mud) and "tootsie rolls" (dog shit).

But even with less involvement with the neighborhood preteens, his troubles with girls continued. Inevitably some girl, a little older, a little younger, would hit him, or kick him, or push him.

At the local inflatable play space last week, a little girl, somewhere between two and three, latched on to him and would not relent. She followed him everywhere he went, pinching and hitting and pushing and screaming. He tried his best to take my advice to heart, asking her to stop and trying to escape her, but after about 20 minutes, he finally pushed her down, knocking her on her ass. Instantly she was up and running to her mother in tears.

The mother, to her credit, seemed to know her own child very well, and having as far as I could tell seen none of their interactions, responded to her kid's cries of "That boy pushed me!" with "Tell him you're sorry."

When the girl cried, Thumper became extremely distraught. I tried to tell him he wasn't in trouble. I tried to tell him that I was proud at how hard he tried not to hit her. I tried to talk to him about how we could handle it next time, like possibly talking to the girl's mom instead of just getting away from her. But he was a wreck, and he didn't want to play any more.

Then we repeated the process again a few days later with another girl at a playground.

So I'm of two minds. From one perspective, my instructions to him about girls is perfectly valid and his emotional response is a necessary one. As a modern man in a new world, I don't want him to grow up believing he can and should take advantage of girls and later, women. I want him to think of them with respect and even reverence, though I'm not yet ready to explain to him the full extent of their strange, enchanting, and baffling powers. He must learn that size and strength do not confer upon him a righteous authority over those smaller and less strong, and I don't want him to grow up thinking it's acceptable to use other people, especially women, for his own advantage or pleasure without thought for them as human beings. On the other hand, I fear that I'm teaching him that he must submit himself meekly to those that would treat him without respect.

Too many times as a parent, it seems like there is no correct path.

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