We are living in a guest cottage of a house that we recently sold. The house and guest cottage are in the Woodside hills surrounded by walking trails and lots of wildlife. The cottage was originally a horse barn, converted to a three bedroom cottage. Built in 1927, history ekes through the brick walkway and wood stove in the family room. It brings up memories of our summer cottage when I was growing up. One of the not so fun parts of this lovely cottage is that I live in a house full of males. Privacy is a challenge. So I dress in my little cottage closet. It is a very small space. I can barely stand upright in it before I rub against the clothing rack. Yet, I am grateful, because this space is truly mine.
Yesterday as I began to dress in my closet, I noticed a funny smell. I twisted my head around in search of its origin. (It didn't take me long) It was the smell of a newly used black magic marker. My 5th grade son, Austin has written a note to me and taped it to the support beam behind me.
"You now I getting at the stage where im starting to like girls so theres a girl in my class that I like and want to give a necklace to here for her birthday.
P.S. The necklace is $99.00. I pay."
I resisted the urge to correct his typos. Then these thoughts flitted through my mind. "How cute!" "What a thoughtful, gentle boy he has become." He had event taken the time to go online and select a necklace. (Husband take note!)
As the day went on I started to mull over my real responsibilities in raising Austin and my other boys into healthy men. It is not an easy process and made harder by my passion to make sure my boys learn how to respect and treat women.
Now to some that may seem an easy and natural process. Yet, because of the work I do on human rights and women's issues, I see how easily those dreams can unravel. I know how much better we need to be doing, than we are. A study done at Clemson University recently showed that over 51% of college aged boys would rape if they knew they would not get caught. Those kinds of studies only add to my fear about how to raise loving, caring boys.
Of course, my biggest fear is one that I have no control over. How can I teach my sons to treat women with respect and gentleness when the world around them shouts out such a different message?
How can I teach them that a woman's body is a gift to experience with love, when my boys can't even play an arcade motorcycle game without a half-naked gyrating female waving a white flag on the screen? Even in the popular Dance, Dance, Revolution, it is only the girl characters that seem to have misplaced their clothes. It is almost unavoidable -impossible even-as companies begin to fling these images of women at them. Forget television and movies, it begins so much earlier in every day life.
As parents my husband and I think about our actions every day. Did we do the right thing? Were we too tough on them? Are we too soft? We joke about tough decisions and wonder if this will cause years of therapy for one of our children. It is funny now, but it won't be then.
I do worry, like all parents, I want my children to grow up and be happy in whatever they choose; Heterosexual, gay, artist, corporate executive, or a human rights activist. We will support them in whatever they decide to do. Yet, all of us know that it is easier to say before you go through the process. The actual events test your mettle as a parent. Like being married, it is easy to be committed to marriage for life, until something comes up to challenge that belief.
Living here in Silicon Valley, there are people with lots of money. We see images of greed still being good, every day. I worry about the kids exposure to these excesses and to people that preach money is the answer to life. I hope that we can teach them that money can be used to create positive change in the world, not to amass things. Yet if they choose to go another way, I have to learn to respect that it is an individual choice.
For me, I hope that I can teach my children that there is nothing better than someone standing by you, who knows you and understands you and still loves you. (Yes, honey I am referring to you) I hope my boys learn to crave a hug from someone they love rather than a new Ferrari to fill the emptiness. Perhaps my kids will learn early enough, that amassing things sometimes attracts the kind of people who love money, not you.
Inevitably, we are going to make mistakes. So will our children. I am not looking forward to the painful ones, but again we have no choice. Life keeps moving forward like a runaway train and so will my children. (Hopefully not as fast).
My husband and I will sit down with Austin to discuss his desire. We will let him know we believe it is inappropriate at his age, to buy expensive gifts for girls. He may get upset and storm out of the room, but hopefully he will come to learn that a card with a special note means so much more.
Any Rand once said, "My happiness is not the means to my end. It is the end."
I wish for my sons to find that place.
The conversation with my son has to be postponed until this weekend. I have to scramble to get him to school. He has pestered me to get him there early, as he wants to get a glimpse of the "girl". He wants to beat one of his best friends to school; apparently they have a crush on the same girl. I take a deep breath as we drive, and begin to tell him that good friends never let a girl come between them, that friendship is important. He turns to me and stares in disbelief, the kind of look you get when you have greatly embarrassed him in front of his friends. "Of course Mom, we have already talked about that!" Maybe I don't have to worry so much after all.