Category Archives: Life With Kids

The Thin Rainbow Line

Boys and DollsMy boys love cars and trucks. They dig in the dirt. They run around the house having sword fights and defeating zombie invasions. They like both pirates and ninjas. They also have a play kitchen, with a tea set and play food. They have fluffy toys and dolls and play at looking after babies. Last year, Big Brother spent weeks and weeks building The Ultimate Dollhouse out of shoe boxes, and then decorating it with matchstick furniture, frilly curtains, and artwork on the walls.

Both boys like trying on make-up and wearing my high heels. They also like making fart-noises at the dinner table.

Big Brother’s favourite colour has always been pink. He likes frills and sparkles and fairies. He likes having his nails painted. His ideal Treat Day is shoe shopping and a hair cut.

Or it was.

Because now he’s at school, everything’s changed.

His favourite colour isn’t pink anymore. Because “pink is a girl’s colour”.

He doesn’t like some of the music we used to listen to. Because “it’s girl’s music”.

He doesn’t want to hear stories about fairies and unicorns. Because they’re “girl stuff”.

He fights himself over his choice of clothes and activities. I can see it in his eyes and I can feel the tension in his body and the pain in his heart. And I can’t make it better.

I can tell him that boys can do whatever they want to do.

I can tell him that there’s no such thing as “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”.

But then he goes to school, and he argues with his friends, and he comes home feeling even worse than he did to start with.

“Mummy,” he said last month. “We were having a wedding in the sandpit today — not a real one, just a pretend one — and Schoolboy said that boys have to marry girls, and boys aren’t allowed to marry boys. And I said he was lying. And he said he wasn’t. But he was lying, wasn’t he?”

Because he’s six. And there’s no shades of gray when you’re six.

It’s not the legal concept of marriage he’s talking about. It’s the wedding that happens at the end of every fairy tale, the wedding that means Love. With a capital L. So I said, “Well, most of the time boys fall in love with girls, and girls fall in love with boys. But sometimes boys  fall in love with boys, and girls fall in love with girls. The important thing isn’t if they’re boys or girls. The important thing is the Love.”

“But Schoolboy’s parents said boys can’t marry boys.”

And then I’m stuck. Because I don’t want to tell my son that his friend’s parents are wrong. Or… anything else that will undoubtedly make its way back through the classroom to the parents in question. So instead I say, “Maybe his parents just don’t know any boys who love boys.”

And then he’s distracted by asking me about the boys I know who love boys, and the conversation trails off into me telling him stories of working in exciting places. Like retail stores.

And I don’t mind having those conversations. I expect to have many, many more conversations about love and sexuality over the coming years. Those conversations don’t make my heart ache.

My heartache is about gender roles.

It’s about my little boy feeling suddenly uncomfortable telling his friends he does ballet.

It’s about my little boy feeling ashamed for doing what he loves and being who he is.

It’s about my little boy coming to me a couple of days ago and saying, “Mummy, can I tell you something funny? Can you imagine (giggle) a boy wearing lipstick!”

And me not even realising why that’s supposed to be funny, and answering, “Yes.” And then waiting for the funny part.

But it wasn’t funny.

It wasn’t funny when I had to explain that boys are allowed to wear lipstick if they like it, and girls don’t have to.

I don’t like this sudden shift. I don’t like seeing my child having a great time playing with a toy, and then see him suddenly stop, put it down, and mutter that it’s a girl’s toy. I don’t like sending him out into the world and watching him struggle.

I don’t like it at all.

I wish I could wrap him up in love and paint his toenails bright rainbow colours and give him a ribbon for his hair and pink ballet shoes for his feet, and then let him run through the mud and build a city full of dinosaurs with lasers on their heads to fight the horde of brain-eating zombies about to attack.

I wish I could protect him from the gender-bias of the world. But I can’t. Not completely.

So I do what I can.

But I feel like I’m swimming against the tide.

No.

I feel like I’m using an umbrella to protect him from a tsunami, while walking on a tightrope above shark-infested lava.

But, you know what?

I’m going to keep walking that line, holding my umbrella in front of us, until my boys are strong enough to walk it on their own.

Because no matter how hard it is, my boys are worth it.

Worth It

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Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

The Stories in my Mind

Photo by Lisa Monster.

Photo by Lisa Monster.

I’m sitting at a Fish & Chip place, waiting for my order to be ready. My husband and sons are in the car waiting for me. I won’t be long. A few minutes at most. And they’ve got stories to read and games to play.

I’m playing my own game. I’m playing “Make up the story of the other customers”.

There’s the tired looking woman in the tired-looking long dress. Her hair and make-up are perfect. In my mind, I imagine her coming home from a long day at work and realising she’s got nothing to cook for dinner. But she’s already changed into something comfortable, so she doesn’t want to go to the supermarket. Instead, she pops down the road to the local Fish-O, and figures she won’t see anyone she knows.

Then there’s the muscled, tattooed guy with orange hair and an impressively orange van dyke. He’s got a little girl with him — she can’t be more than 2 1/2 years old — and she stares up at him adoringly. “Daddy, what’s that? Daddy, can I have juice? Daddy, can you lift me up?” And he, in his tough guy jeans and wife-beater, smiles back at her and answers her every question. She’s wearing purple leggings, an embroidered white shirt that’s on backwards, and a pair of slippers. And in my mind, I imagine Mum saying goodbye to her little girl. “Mummy will be home tomorrow. Have a good night with Daddy. I love you, chicken.”

As they all leave, another group of customers arrive. Three boys. Let’s say… 13 years old. Maybe 14, but that would be a stretch. The one in the lead is tall and lanky and has a cocky grin that I want to wipe off his face the moment I see it. He’s wearing a stained singlet that’s too small, and a pair of grubby shorts that are too big — not in that “I’m so cool and gangsta” way. More in the “I don’t have clothes that fit me” way. His socks are orange. His volleys are lime green. He needs a haircut.

With him are two other boys. One is taller than him, the other shorter. One is more muscular than him, the other isn’t. These two are wearing clothes that both fit them and look like they’ve recently been washed. I see designer name brands on one boy’s jeans. They both have good shoes. And they’re walking their scooters.

They have to, because Boy 1 is on foot. And they stay beside or behind him at all times.

“Hey,” says Boy 1. “Go buy us some food.” And then he throws himself languorously into one chair, puts his feet on a second, and wait for his bidding to be done.

And it is. Of course. The other boys order and pay, and then return to Boy 1’s side.

There are no more chairs. So they stand, uncomplaining, while their friend occupies two.

Outside, another group of boys walks by. Without moving his body, Boy 1 raises his voice and shouts to them. “Hey! Fags! What are you faggots doing?”

Every adult in the place turns to look at this boy.

He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

“I said,” Boy 1 shouts even louder. “What are you faggots doing?”

The other boys keep walking. And that’s what prompts Boy 1 to move. He leaps from his chairs like he’s been electrocuted, and bolts for the door. His minions — sorry, friends — follow him. I strain my ears, but hear only muffled conversation. And then the second group of boys leaves, and Boy 1 brings his followers back to the Fish-O. As a parting shot he yells, “Hey, JT! You forgot your eye-liner!”

No response.

“And you’re lookin’ a bit fat!”

No response.

“Fags!”

There is silence in the store. The boys pick up their order — or, rather, Boy 1 picks up the order and decrees that they shall eat it while sitting in the parking lot — and they’re gone. And everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

While I make up stories about Boy 1 in my head. Where does he live? Why is he dressed like that? What power does he have over his friends? Where are his parents?

And what is with the language?

Look, I have to be honest. It’s not the worst thing that could be said. I mean, I’ve been called a fag before. Which is crazy, because I thought that kind of random hate-talk died out in the 80’s.

Also, I’m a woman. (Although that seems somehow less relevant.)

But I get their confusion. I mean, I’m almost 6’2″ tall. I’ve got broad shoulders — I have friends who call me an Amazon and others who refer to me as The Viking Chick — and I wear my hair short. At the time, my husband and I were walking home, hand in hand. So I can understand how someone would see the two of us

holding hands

at night

from behind

and instead of seeing a couple in love, they’d see two men (one with incredibly well-developed child-bearing hips) who should obviously be verbally abused for their “crime” — whatever that may be.

At the time, I shrugged and wrote it off as just a few guys who’d escaped from the 80s in their trusty DeLorean, and would no doubt be going home soon.

Well.

Listening to the young men at the Fish & Chip shop today, I have to face the fact that either I was wrong, or there are an awful lot of DeLoreans cruising around out there.

I return to the present when my number is called. I collect my order and return to the car and my family is waiting, and all I can think is that I do not want my boys to ever talk like that. Ever. Even — no, especially — if they don’t know why those words are so hateful, and how their very usage creates and reinforces a culture where hatred and violence against homosexuals is normalised.

With those thoughts running through my mind, I’m almost surprised when my son speaks to me.

“Mummy, did you see those children?”

I hesitate and then say yes. But it takes me a moment to realise who he’s talking about.

It takes me a moment to equate the word “child” with Boy 1.

“Were those children playing a game?” he asks.

I mutter an affirmative and I drive away.

Quietly.

Because in my mind, I’m watching my boys grow up into kind, brave, noble men. Men who won’t need to follow weak leaders, because they’ll know their own mind and follow their own inner compass. Men who won’t use hate-speak, because they’ll know the value of a human soul. Men who will love and hurt and cry and cheer and fight for what is right and never, ever, ever let the world drag them down.

And I will do whatever it takes to make that story come true.

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Nightmares and Other Spooky Stuff

Man in Black Hat

I was eight the first time I dreamed of The Man in the Black Hat.

He haunted my dreams for months.

I would lie awake at night, dreading the moment I fell asleep and I’d be thrust once more into his nightmare world. But eventually, sleep would come. And then it would begin.

I had been playing with the neighbourhood children when we saw him coming. He was further up the street, just coming out of one of the houses, on his way to the next. The Man in the Black Hat.

The Man in the Black Hat was a monster. A serial killer. He was feared across the entire country, and the police couldn’t do anything to stop him. He dressed all in black. Shiny, black shoes. Black trousers. A black shirt and tie. And a long, formal, black jacket. And on his head, a hat. A strange, tall black hat that sat atop his black hair and made him look even taller than he already was.

And he was tall. Tall and thin and terrifying.

He travelled from place to place, starting at the top of the street and slowly working his way from house to house. And when he entered a house, he killed everyone inside. No preamble. No talking. Just death, delivered swiftly at the end of a blade. Men, women, children, pets… Everyone died when he came to a neighbourhood.

And he was in ours.

We ran inside and found my parents. “Mum! Dad! The Man in the Black Hat is here!”

But they didn’t believe us.

We tried and tried, but they told us to stop making up stories. We begged them to call the police, but they wouldn’t. They just kept doing what they were doing, and told us to go outside and play. So outside we went.

And The Man in the Black Hat was just coming out of the house next door.

We fled back into the house, and down into the basement. Maybe we could hide. Maybe he wouldn’t find us.

I squeezed myself into a small cupboard and pulled the door closed behind me. I could just see a sliver of the room through the crack between the doors. And I held my breath, and I waited.

I didn’t have to wait for long.

Footsteps on the stairs.

Slow. Measured. There was no rush.

And The Man in the Black Hat came into view, his tall top hat, the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. He had a blade in his hand. It was coated in the blood of my parents.

He went out of sight, then. Searing the basement. One by one, I heard him kill my friends. Some of them screamed. Some of them begged. All of them died.

Then he killed my siblings.

Silence.

Footsteps.

Was he leaving?

The door of my hiding place opened.

The Man in the Black Hat smiled at me, bloody knife in hand. And then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me towards him.

At the moment the blade touched my throat…

..I woke up. Drenched in sweat. Sobbing and cowering and barely able to breathe. The shadow on my curtain looked like a face, and I hid under the blankets.

Eventually, dawn came.

But the dream wasn’t done.

The Man in the Black Hat came to me three or four times a week for months. Every time, it was the same. I’d listen to my friends being murdered in front of me, and then he’d come for me. I cried myself to sleep most nights.

I was eight years old.

And then, a turning point. I told my brother about The Man in the Black Hat. And he looked at me, all earnestness, and he said, “Haven’t you heard of The Man in the White Hat?”

“No,” I said. Naive. Hopeful.

“The Man in the White Hat dresses all in white,” my little brother said. “He has a tall, white hat. And he’s hunting down The Man in the Black Hat.”

And then he went back to playing with his Transformers.

That night, The Man in the Black Hat came for me, just like always.

I saw him coming. I told my parents. They didn’t believe me. I hid in a cupboard in the basement. I heard my friends killed. I heard my siblings killed. The door of my hiding place opened. The Man in the Black Hat smiled at me, bloody knife in hand. And then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me towards him.

And a voice came from the top of the stairs. “Let go of that girl!”

It was The Man in the White Hat. He wore shiny, white shoes. White trousers. A white shirt and tie. And a long, formal, white jacket. And on his head, a tall white hat that sat atop his blonde hair. In his hand, he carried a white cane.

He came down the stairs. The Man in the Black Hat let go of me, and turned to face him.

Then The Man in the White Hat drew a sword from his cane, and chopped off The Man in the Black Hat’s head. Then he winked at me.

I woke up.

And I never dreamed of The Man in the Black Hat again.

He was dead. But he wasn’t gone.

To this day, he lurks in the back of my head. He’s the prototype for every nightmare monster, every evil character in every story I tell, and the bearer of every moment of panic or fear. He whispers to me sometimes.

“You can’t do this.”

“You’re going to die one day.”

“Everybody hates you.”

“I will make the worst thing you can imagine come true.”

But he’s locked in the prison of my mind, and every now and then, The Man in the White Hat shows up and puts him in his place.

I don’t talk about him. I rarely think about him.

And I’m not afraid of him anymore.

Or, I wasn’t.

Until today.

“Mummy,” six-year-old Big Brother said. “I had a strange vision of a man.”

“Mmmm?”

“He was tall and skinny and really scary. And he was wearing black. A black shirt and a funny, long black jacket. And a really strange hat. I think he’s a bad guy.”

I froze. The bad guys in movies always wear black. It’s just a coincidence.

Right?

But what if it isn’t. “What type of hat?” I asked.

He frowned. Remembering.

“A tall, scary black one.”

My blood ran cold.

This story is entirely true. Have you had something spooky happen to you?

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The Bad Days

They don’t tell you about the bad days.

They don’t tell you about the bad days when you’re sick and you’re alone with two children and everything they say, every little thing, leaves you feeling like your eardrums have been pierced by a thousand needles and your entire world is confined to an everlasting world of noise and pain and pointless arbitration.

They don’t tell you about the bad days when your fever is so high you’re starting to hallucinate, but your two-year-old still needs cuddles and your children still need dinner and you find yourself crying while you’re cooking some barely-nutritious meal and you don’t even know why.

They don’t tell you about the bad days when your entire body aches and your children give you ninja-cuddles that leave you breathless and overwhelmed and you do your best to smile and thank them, but after the fourteenth time you snap and yell at them not to touch you.

They don’t tell you about the bad days when you sit inside your mind, watching yourself be the parent you never want to be, and you can’t. Seem. To stop.

They don’t tell you about the bad days when the guilt is worse than all the sickness in the world.

They don’t tell you about the bad days when you want to yell and scream and punch the walls and tell these beautiful children in your care that you just want them to leave you alone for five expletive minutes, and the effort of not doing exactly that is so draining that the tears flow freely.

They don’t tell you about the bad days when the effort is too much, and you do yell at them and you see their little faces crumble and you would do anything, anything, if you could just step back in time two minutes and take back those words and be the person they need you to be.

They don’t tell you about the bad days.

And when they come.

(Because they will.)

All you can do.

Is hope that tomorrow.

Is a good one.

The Superheroes

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Conversations with Children: The Wonders of Research

Me and The Boy

Both my boys are somewhat enamoured with the music of Jurassic Joe. You’ve probably never heard of him. If you’ve got young children, that’s a real shame because his music is all about dinosaurs, and it’s equal parts fun and informative.

Jurassic Joe is the reason Big Brother can tell you the difference between a T-Rex and a Giganatosaurus.

So we were listening to “the dinosaur music” in the car the other day when Big Brother pipes up, “I think Jurassic Joe must have been alive when the dinosaurs were.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because he knows so much about them.”

“Well,” I said. “I don’t think he was alive back then. But I bet he did a lot of research.”

“Research? What’s research?”

Only one of my favourite things in the world… I thought, and wondered how the word had never come up in conversation before. “Research is when you come across a topic or an idea that you find interesting, so you read about it and talk to people about it and find all sorts of information about it. Research is searching for information so you can learn about something.”

“Wow,” said Big Brother. “That sounds awesome. That’s the best thing ever!”

“It is! Mummy loves researching things.”

“Can I research something?”

And a previous conversation re-played itself in my head. A conversation from the day before when Big Brother explained to me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t need to go to school anymore, because he already knew everything that happened there.

“Yes,” I said. “You can research whatever you’d like. Whatever you’re interested in. Research is one of the best ways to learn anything, and you can do it your whole life. In fact, research is one of the reasons you go to school.”

“It is?”

“It is. At school, you’ll learn about a lot of different things so you can find out what interests you and what you’d like to research. Plus, they’ll teach you how to do research.”

“Really?” His eyes were wide.

“Really.”

He was silent for a few moments. Thinking. Then he piped up, “I want to research buildings! And remember how you bought me that colouring book with buildings from all over the world? Well, I can use that to start researching buildings. And the whole world. And I’m going to research the whole world. And sea dragons!”

“That sounds great,” I said.

Another minute of silence. I could hear the cogs in his mind whirring, processing, wondering, dreaming.

“What am I learned to research at school right now?” he asked suddenly.

“Well, you know how you want to research buildings?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“One of the first ways to learn about buildings is to build them with blocks. That way you learn how to make buildings stable, and how to make buildings look good.”

His whole face lit up. “And I know how to build buildings really, really wellI’m great at building with blocks! Wow! I’ve already learned Level One research on buildings!”

I smiled, but didn’t have time to reply before he was off again.

“And do you know what Level Two research on buildings is?”

“What?”

“Drawing them! And I’m really good at drawing buildings! So I’ve already done Level One and Level Two research on buildings! I wonder what Level Three research on buildings is?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

“Wow,” he said. “I love research.”

“Me too, Sweetheart. Me too.”

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Children, Communication, and No TV

Big Brother's New HaircutBig Brother had his hair cut today. He chose the style he wanted, explained it to the hairdresser, and then proceeded to have a long conversation with her while she cut his hair. They talked about board games (his favourite is chess, hers is backgammon), what books they’re reading at the moment, the pros and cons of grocery shopping, and whether or not school holidays should go forever. Then he told her about his plan to grow up and invent Helper Robots, complete with what they will look like, how they will help people, and how that will change the world.

At the end of this half hour discussion, Big Brother went and sat down quietly on the seat to wait while Little Brother had his turn. And since Little Brother is a lot more shy than his brother, the hairdresser and I talked.

“It’s hard to believe he’s only six,” she said, gesturing to Big Brother. “I’m always happy when I see you come in here. He always has great manners, and I’ve never met another kid his age who talks so well, and who can actually have a conversation with me.”

I thanked her, chuffed by the compliment. Of course. And then she asked me what school he goes to, and what we’ve done to help him get to this point.

Normally I wouldn’t bring it up, but she was interested.

So I talked about being firm on the importance of manners from the time my children started talking. I talked about leading by example — talking to them the way I want them to talk to me. I talked about the importance of reading books and telling stories and playing board games and not dumbing down language when talking to the children. And then I talked about how the children don’t watch any TV (except for our once a week family movie night) or play computer games.

She was on board with everything until I mentioned TV. But she asked, so I explained.

I explained about the latest research that shows the effect TV has on young brains. I told her that I believe TV encourages children to be spectators rather than to fully engage in the world. I talked about how not watching TV gives my boys plenty of time to play outside, read books, and stage elaborate puppet shows with their toys. But, most of all, I said that I’m not anti-TV. It has its place. Nor do I have a problem with people who let their young children watch TV. Every child and every family is different. But this works for us, and I believe it’s one of the contributing factors in the way Master Six interacts with people and the world.

“Yes,” she said. “But aren’t you worried that when your kids get older and learn about TV and advertising and social media, they won’t be able to communicate with people in the real world?”

To which, I referred her back to her original statement.

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Conversations with Children: Pros and Cons of Reincarnation

(Note: I wouldn’t normally post two ‘Conversations with Children’ in a row, but I didn’t want to forget this conversation.)

2012-12-12 December Import 010

We’re in the car, where so many of our conversations seem to happen. Six-year-old Big Brother has been quiet for a while, thinkingthinkingthinking.  And then the question.

“Mummy, after I die will I come back and be born again?”

As often happens, I find myself mentally pinwheeling. What should I say? What’s the right answer? I don’t even know what I think about reincarnation beyond a vague sense of generic maybe-ness, but my son is looking to me for reassurance and understanding. How do I answer this question with honesty, simplicity, and compassion?

“Well,” I say slowly. “You might.”

“Do people come back again as babies after they die?”

“Some people do,” I say, struggling to put my hitherto unspoken thoughts into words. “Sometimes people choose to come back and be born again, and sometimes people choose to stay dead and live in the Afterlife.”

“I’m going to be born again,” says the boy who was born with the most ancient, knowing eyes I’ve ever seen. “And when I am, if people give me another name I’m going to tell them they’re wrong and I already know my name. I’ll be Big Brother forever.”

I smile. “Will you?”

“Yes.” A pause. Hesitation. “Can I do that?”

“Well,” I say again, my mind racing but my voice calm and measured. “Usually when people are born they don’t remember if they had another life before. So you might not remember your name, because you’d come back as a baby.”

“Oh,” he says. “But… When you die, are you going to choose to come back?”

The questions keep coming, and I don’t know where the conversation is going, and I’m feeling a little scared. Of what, I don’t know.

“I might,” I say.

“Then we can come back together. I don’t want to be born to someone else. I always want you to be with me. So when you come back, I’ll just wait in the Afterlife until you’ve grown up to an adult and then you can born me again. Okay?”

“Okay,” I say. I can’t say anything else. I’m fighting back tears of… of something I can’t name, and trying to drive, and trying not to sound like I’m… like I’m feeling whatever I’m feeling.

“How many days will that take?” my beautiful son asks.

“How many days will what take?”

“How many days will it take for you to be a grown-up?”

“Um. Quite a few.”

He thinks. “I’ve changed my mind,” he says. “I don’t want to be away from you  for lots of days. We should both just not be born again and stay in the Afterlife. Then we can be together forever and ever and ever.”

He reaches his hand towards me at the same moment I reached mine back to him.

“I love you, Mummy,” he says.

And the tears flow, whether I want them to or not.

 

 

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