Boys and Education: Sometimes the teacher must be the student

I have a confession to make. In addition to being a great mother before I had children, I was even a better fifth grade teacher. I couldn’t understand why library books didn’t come back on time, I’d shake my head at a family’s disorganization and as embarrassed as I am to admit, I would harrumph, and roll my eyes at the “excuses” for homework not being done.

That was before.

I will also admit to feeling gob smacked when I learned that I was having a boy. And another. And then another. How could I, poster child for the girly-girl, have three boys?

Living with boys hasn’t come easy to me. It has been a learning process of how to best communicate with them and Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, has been my instructional guide.

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“Did you know that most boys and men build friendships around activities and don’t really care to share their inner most feelings with each other?” I asked my husband, somewhat incredulously.

“Um, yeah,” he muttered back to me while absently staring at the tv and flicking through the channels.

“Did you know that most boys and men prefer to communicate shoulder-to-shoulder, you know, looking at problem together, rather than making direct eye contact?” I say this like it’s some sort of a revelation.

“Ya.”

“Okay, this explains a lot. Did you know that there are structural differences in the ears’ of boys and girls, and this guy is suggesting that sometimes boys have a hard time hearing their teacher and don’t intend to be disruptive?!”

“Sorry, what’d you say?”

And there you have it. My life with boys.

I read somewhere that women speak thousands more words in a day than men. In my case it’s true. I live my life according to a script.

“Wake up! Teeth brushed, beds made, clothes on! Knees off the table. Use your spoon. Dishes to the dishwasher . . . “

And when the boys are fighting, I am more likely to get into a discussion (albeit one-sided) about feelings and anger, and controlling impulses. Down on my knees, arms wrapped around each boy, sandwiching myself in between them, I talk. And talk. And talk. I’m usually there to intercede immediately after the first fist flies.

By contrast, the boys’ father will swoop into a room after the fighting has reached a level he has deemed too violent (usually just before or after bloodshed) and clip, “Enough!”

With that simple command, the boys will scamper to their respective corners, like lion cubs retreating after they’ve caused the leader of the pride to roar.

“You engage with them too much sometimes. Just say it once and mean it.” This is my husband’s advice. In fact this is how he lives his life. He keeps his sentences brief, and speaks when it counts. Years ago he told me that when someone talks to hear their own voice others would eventually learn to shut it out.

Dr. Sax would say that I should let the boys be physical and competitive because they are just doing what comes natural. He is quick to assert that doesn’t mean letting them pound each other to a bloody pulp or allow them to use violence to solve their problems, but that I should just back-off, and not make the jump to “Oh my God! They are going to grow up to be sociopaths if I let them pretend to shoot each other!”

But it’s hard for me. As a woman, I like to talk about everything and hash-it all out. My girlfriends and I will talk all sides of a story and debate tone and inflection until exhausted, we move on to another topic. My friends with daughters often remark how their little girls come home from school and they talk for an hour, getting the play-by –play: what the teacher wore, what so-and-so said, where they sat on the carpet and what the story was about. They will know the dynamics of friendships and whose feelings were hurt and who has made-up.

My boys come home and it’s like prying teeth to get them to share the happenings of their day. I have resorted to asking very pointed questions on our walks home from school, should-to-shoulder, avoiding direct eye contact. I used to think that they weren’t sharing things with me because they were embarrassed, or possibly nervous of my reaction, but no, I was reassured with a shrug of their shoulders and an, “Oh, I dunno. I forgot.

It’s important to note that my boys and I have a very close relationship and they will tell me their inner most secrets, but I’ve had to learn what’s news to me, isn’t news to them and like their father, they use fewer words than I do.

So what does all of this mean when it comes to the classroom?

I usually breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that my son’s teacher is a mom to a boy.

She gets it. I think.

I hope.

And usually she does. She usually gets that boys think fart jokes are hilarious, and that they generally like competition, even if it’s just with them. She gets that sitting for more than one-minute necessary can have a disastrous result. She gets that even when they don’t say anything, it doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting, or needing help. She gets the nuances of being a boy.

And that’s what I didn’t get when I was a teacher. Make no mistake; I thought that I got it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Can you really blame me?

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*Dr. Sax refers to gender and not “sex” differences. It’s an important distinction.

* Dr. Sax also writes about the disjointed messages our girls receive from society while growing up and how damaging they can be. Fascinating food for thought.

That’s Mrs. Manners to you!

imgres-2You might as well call me Mrs. Manners – not that mine are perfect (close) but I am the self-appointed manners prefect of the family.  When did kids stop using Mrs., anyway? Like Nathalie, I am not always polite about reminding my boys to use their manners but remind them, I do.

Some (cough, cough the boys) may call it nagging but I call it “constructive guidance”.  It sounds better.

Sit up straight.  Elbows off the table.   Use your utensils.

I also excel at something that I’ve coined “verbal coaching”.  Before leaving the house, going to someone’s house, entering a store, straying more than an arm’s length from me, I like to prompt the boys:

How do we greet people?  What do you say when you arrive?  How do you shake a hand?  What do you say when you leave?  Remember to look at the person when they are speaking to you.  Use your voice, don’t mumble.  Be polite.  Say please, thank you.

Sometimes my gentle reminders are met with an eyeball roll.  I am quick to point out that’s quite rude.

It’s exhausting work being Mrs. Manners in addition to my regular gig as Super Martyr Mom but no one said raising three young boys to be kind, respectful, thoughtful men was easy.

Receiving accolades as a parent is as rare as experiencing a day free from whining.  Spoiler alert: it never happens.  Yet when report cards are sent home, no amount of A’s will make me as proud as when I read how my boys are polite, considerate and courteous.

It’s like I have been graded, and I have passed.  For now.

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imgres-1Cookie: Bite-Sized Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Have You Filled A Bucket Today?
by Carol Mccloud have been read many times over in our home and serve as fantastic tools for teaching manners and kindness to my boys.

Truths We’re Told

I’m not sure I can add much to what Nathalie and Beth-Anne have already so eloquently said on this topic.   I will let the other mothers’ writing stand on its own, but I share the sentiment already expressed that entitlement is an unattractive quality, in both children and adults.

I want my boys to grow up to be modest, unassuming, deservedly proud of what they accomplish, without any inflated sense of self-worth, confident but not cocky, and above all, I want them to be grateful for the opportunities they’ve had, and to show that gratitude appropriately. And because I was raised to show appropriate gratitude, I have to give the credit to those people whose words helped shape me, and whose values I want to pass along to my own children:

From my grandfather: “Don’t show off who you are.” In other words, be modest. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself. You gain nothing from it. (Clearly, my grandfather could not have anticipated You Tube, but I digress…)

From my mom’s cousin: “When you’re famous, don’t forget who you come from”, an admonition that also took the form of, “Don’t think we’ll be afraid to knock you down a peg if you get too high and mighty”. I may not be famous, but when I’ve caught myself thinking too highly of myself, these words come back to me.

From my Dad: “You’ve got to make luck to be lucky”. What people think of as “luck” is really the pay-off of hard work.

From my Mom: “You can do anything you set your mind to! Well….except ballet. Honestly Marcelle, you’re not going to be a prima ballerina. You’re too tall and your feet don’t arch.  You don’t have to like it, but it’s the way it is. You DO need to practice your violin ….” Not everyone can do everything. Find what you CAN do, and do it the best you can.

Is there a home-grown truth about how to be that you carry with you? I often wonder which of my frequent platitudes will stay with my own children long after I’m no longer there to utter them.  Whatever it is, I hope they take it to heart.

You Were a Kid Once Too

Last month I wrote about toilet training my 2 year old.  I have decided to adopt Carol’s attitude and allow myself to follow his lead.  Some days we cruise through the day with barely an accident and other days I am cleaning up poo that has been tracked through the house.  It’s a process.

Recently I took the boys to their favourite store and with money in hand they agonized over their selections.

My eyes were drawn to my four year old.  One leg was crossed over the other.  Then the leg from behind wrapped around the leg in front.

Forget any seasoned parent, an amateur babysitter would be able to tell you that this boy had to pee.  And if experience has taught me anything it’s this:  when kids say that they have to pee now they mean NOW.

The bunch of us hurried over to the nearest sales person and in my sweetest voice asked if we could use the washroom as it was an emergency.

“The washroom is for employees only!” the surly woman snarled at me.

“I completely understand your policy but it’s not for me, it’s my son.  It really is an emergency.”  I pleaded with her, motioning toward to son.  I could tell from the frequency of the legs folding over each other that we had seconds to spare.

“Employees only!” She hissed at me and went back to stocking the shelves.

I wanted to snap back at her, remind her that she was a child once too, tell her that karma is a bitch.

An older man standing behind me gave me a look of sympathy and validated my irritation by saying aloud that this was ridiculous.

Instead, I took a deep breath and walked with my boys out of the store where upon my son just could not hold it a moment longer.

I shrugged my shoulders and through the closed door the older man gave me a thumbs up.

 

image courtesy of: www.funnysigns.net

Curing the Nature Deficit

July 1, 2012: Milkman’s Lane, Yellow Creek Ravine, Mud Creek Ravine, Don Valley Brickworks.

In his book Accidental City, Robert Fulford wrote about Toronto’s ravines:

The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.

If you’re not familiar with Toronto’s ravine system, I recommend the blog, Toronto Ravines and Trails with Abbey. It’s the personal blog of a Toronto father who has chronicled his adventures exploring Toronto’s ravines with his five-year old daughter.  Of course, if you have a literary bent, there’s always Margaret Atwood‘s Cat’s Eye to read,  in which Toronto’s ravines figure prominently.

Walking in Toronto’s ravines has become a Canada Day ritual for us, those years when we can’t get out of the city (read: most years). There is nothing like an amble along a sun-dappled trail to get the imagination flowing. Not five steps on to Milkman’s Lane, and the boys had launched into a new game of their own devising, which continued, unabated, until they finally stopped to smell (or water) the roses at the Evergreen Brickworks, our destination of the day:

P.S.: We’re wishing our American readers, family and friends a very happy, relaxing and restorative Fourth of July.  Whether you spend the day in a ravine, at a beach, at a barbeque or just in the company of people you love, we hope today is a good one.

Happy Father’s Day, Peter!

Photo credit: Marcelle Cerny, 2012

Happy father’s day, Peter! I think you know this already, but you have two boys who absolutely adore you.

I should tell you, though: one of them wants you to shave more often.

Here’s  what D (age 9) and S (age 7) had to say. Thanks again to Defining Motherhood for the idea. 

What is daddy made of?

D: Daddy is made of kindness, caring, and responsibility.

S: Hmm. Love, and water.

What kind of little boy was daddy?

D: A fun, cheerful boy. 

S: A nice little boy.

What did Daddy need to know about mommy before he married her?

D: That you’re really kind.

S: How beautiful you were.

[Ed note: Whose idea was it to include this question? It’s brilliant!]

Why did daddy marry mommy?

 D: He loved you a lot, and he knew that you were a big part of his life.

S: Because you looked beautiful.

Who’s the boss at our house?

D: I think being the boss is equally shared between mommy and daddy.

S: Both of you.

What’s the difference between moms and dads?

D: Well, they’re opposite genders….and one gave birth to me, while the other helped.

S: Moms can give birth to babies, and Dads can’t.

What does daddy do in his spare time?

 D: He reads. A lot!

S: He plays with me! And he loves me.

What would it take to make daddy perfect?

D: Nothing. Daddy’s already perfect.

S: A hug and a kiss from me!

If you could change one thing about daddy, what would it be?

D: Maybe I could make it so that Daddy could bend time, so that we could spend more time together.

S: His beard!

M (confused): Why? Daddy doesn’t have a beard.

S: Yes he does. And it’s hairy!

If daddy was a superhero/movie character/book character, which one would he be?

D: Mr. Fantastic. He’s already stretching every day.

S: Captain America! ‘Cause he’s got the same beard as him.

Me (confused again): But, Captain America doesn’t have a beard either.

S: Oh yes he does. It’s EXACTLY the same as Daddy’s.

What should we celebrate about your Dad on father’s day?

D: His kindness and his love for his family.

S: How good he is of a Dad. How well he gives hugs and kisses!

What’s your favourite thing about your Dad?
D: Everything!

S: That he plays football and baseball with me!

Who’s Your Daddy?

With Father’s Day fast approaching, we’re going to pass the reins over to our kids this week. Inspired by this post over at Defining Motherhood, we’re asking our boys for their perspective on their fathers.

Who are they? What do they like? What exactly do the 4Dads do all day?  Join us this week as we interview our boys about their dads: we’re just as curious as you are about what we’ll discover!

Friday Fun: Caine’s Arcade

Have you seen this yet? Nine year old Caine Monroy spent last summer built a fully-functioning cardboard arcade inside his father’s autobody shop in Los Angeles, California. In October of last year, a whole bunch of new friends showed up to play:

Go Caine! Kudos to filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, too. “I felt proud”, indeed.

The Pursuit of Happiness?

I seem to find advice on how to be happy everywhere I turn.  Magazines have entire monthly columns dedicated to attaining it and numerous blogs tout the pursuit of it.

For me, the pressure to be happy can be crushing and there are times, more than I would care to admit, that “be happy” is just one more line item for supermom to check off.  There it looms on the list: above “nutritious short order cook” and below “sultry sexpot”.

Being a mother has proved to be my life riddle.  One that I am struggling to figure out.

How is it that I feel so utterly lonely but at the same time crave solitude?

Why do I want time apart from my kids but once I am alone, I count the hours to when they return?

At the end of the day, I beat myself up and wonder what is that I accomplished today?  What use did I make of my two university degrees?

At the end of the day, I am amazed by the magnitude of what I have contributed to our society: three small boys, who are learning to be thoughtful, compassionate members of the community.

There are days when I am deliriously happy and days that I feel as though I am clawing my way out of a black hole.

Today I didn’t feel happiness.  I felt claustrophobic, torn apart, pushed beyond the limit of exhaustion.  As I write this, the boys are tucked into bed and not a minute too soon.  My patience now sags like a hyper extended elastic band.

Hard days come with the mothering territory and when I feel less than sure, it’s not to the experts that I turn.  I seek solace from those elbow to elbow with me in the trenches and Glennon Melton’s Don’t Carpe Diem tops my list.

Am I happy every day?  No.  Am I happy most days?  Yes, and that’s good enough for me.

Life’s not a glossy magazine, folks.  If it were, I’d have better hair.

 

photo credit: http://www.symbolset.org

Caecillius est in horto. Mater non est compos mentis.

What does it say about your child when he, having grown weary of the old-school teaching style of his Mandarin teacher (Mandarin being a required subject at his school as part of the TDSB’s integrated International Languages program), decides to try to convince his parents to write to the school excusing him from further Mandarin lessons, such a concession by the school to be made possible on promise that his mother will home-school him in her free time in another language of his request? And he continues this campaign for a couple of days straight?

And what if his language of choice is Latin?

Despite his pleas, and much to his chagrin, eldest child has not been excused from ongoing attendance in Mandarin class. He is now, however, the possessor of the first four chapters of  Latin for Children, which he shall start working through over the March Break.

All of this is to say: be careful what you wish for, especially when – surprise! – your mother studied Latin in high school.  You never know when a request like this might bite you in the nates.