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mothering boys

Luca Brasi, Second Fiddle

lucabrasi.jpgToday my doe-eyed, almost five-year-old boy was compared to Luca Brasi. You know, the Godfather’s enforcer, the one who only takes orders from Don Corleone, and who ends up sleeping with the fishes. Yeah, that guy.

True, Caleb has not yet capped anyone, and as far as I know, he’s left no horse parts in anyone’s cubby, but apparently, according to the head teacher at Caleb’s day camp, Caleb seems to go along with whichever strong-willed boy is currently calling the shots. This teacher noticed that Caleb is sought after by these bossier classmates, in part because he seems willing to play the role of second banana. “You know,” she said, “sort of like Ed McMahon.”

Great. So it’s 9:15 in the morning and my child is being compared to a guy whose success in life was knowing when to laugh at someone else’s jokes.

This completely unsolicited conversation happened just after I’d said good-bye to Caleb at the door of the art room. I’m soaking wet because it’s raining as if it’s the second coming of Noah; Liam isn’t at soccer camp because he’s got a doctor’s appointment, so he’s home alone, hopefully not setting fires or downloading porn; Husband is on day six of an eight-day business trip, and did I mention that it’s pouring?

(Full disclosure: when Husband decided to go to this conference in London, his charming wife suggested that he go for a few extra days to visit with his elderly aunt who lives in London, and to see a long-time friend, who also lives there. “We’ll be fine,” I said, “don’t worry about it.” This was before I realized that my younger son was a Made Guy and before I fully understood what it meant to be a solo parent for more than a week. I bow down before all single parents, who never have the chance to say “not right now, let Other Parent get your milk/read your story/ wash your hair/find that goddamn lego.” But I digress.)

In short, on this particular morning, I am in no way equipped to hear that my second child seems to have fully internalized his second-childness and delightedly abdicates his own (nascent) moral compass in favor of Being Told What To Do. Keep in mind, however, that when his older brother tells him what to do, the accusations of BOSSY and UNFAIR ring through the apartment with clarion clarity.

I asked Teacher if following these other boys ever got Caleb into trouble – and that’s where Luca Brasi came in. Caleb gets caught up in whatever turf battle is being waged between other boys, it seems, just like Luca did, resulting in the kindergartner’s version of swims with fishes: A Talking To By The Teacher.

The other day, for example, Caleb, following the lead of G., was teasing E. about something they had that he didn’t. E. had a complete meltdown (thus rendering him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court, but again, I digress). Teacher takes G. and Caleb aside, tells them they weren’t being very nice, and that both of them are smart enough to know that what they did would upset E.  Caleb looks at her and said, “I’m not that smart.”

His answer cracks me up because it’s so smart: after all, you can’t blame him for doing something on purpose if he’s telling you that he’s not smart enough to have done it on purpose. And his answer makes me sad because he so readily described himself as inadequate.

After delivering her commentary, Teacher gave me a hug (she’s that kind of person) and I trudged home through the rain. What do you do with conversations like this? I mean, this isn’t the crazy lady at the bus stop muttering that your kid should be wearing a hat. This is a woman who has seen my kid five days a week, six hours a day, for about a month. She knows Caleb in ways that I don’t, so as I splashed home, I wondered if when she looked at me, she was all, “oh, wow, you’ve totally done a number on this one, lady.”

Is Caleb doomed to be second fiddle, second banana, second string? Does he already assume that he never gets shotgun when he’s old enough to sit in the front seat? Does he let other kids tell him what to do because we’ve failed him in some essential way, already? I mean, I am completely willing to admit that I might have failed as a parent; I was just hoping not to have to reach that verdict until the kids were, you know, maybe sixteen or seventeen.

Birth order’s a bitch, I guess: I’m the oldest, so I think of myself as having been replaced not once but twice (first by a brother, then a sister). My brother is the only boy – both a blessing and a curse – and my sister grew up in two very long shadows. As a friend once said to me, siblings don’t actually grow up in the same family. Which is why, of course, belonging to a family is enough to drive anyone crazy.

I guess the question for me is how keep the second son from feeling like he’s always in second place.

 Clearly this is where Mamma Brasi went wrong with little Luca.  

Continue Reading · on July 21, 2009 in Children, Kids

Liam Looks at Magazines

body.jpgLiam (getting out of the shower): Mommy, can I tell you something?

Mommy (ears pricking up lest she miss An Important Mother-Son Moment): Sure, anything.

Liam (looking at mommy sideways to gauge her reaction): Today, at Barnes and Noble, in the magazine section, I saw a magazine with a lady on the cover who was … completely naked.

Mommy (aware of the potential irony of this conversation occurring while she is drying off her son’s naked post-shower body): Really. Hmmm … So what did you think about that? 

Liam: It was weird, Mommy. And there were other magazines like that, too and I saw –

Mommy: You saw her breasts and –

Liam (giggling): and everything. And I saw another magazine that said “hot guys inside” and had a picture of a guy with no shirt on.

Mommy (wishing that the magazine racks were higher off the ground or that her son didn’t know how to read): What does “hot” mean, do you know?

Liam (striking a pose and flexing his muscles): it means really, really good looking. But this guy, I don’t know mommy, he wasn’t that hot. He had a big moustache and stuff.

Mommy (wondering when and why the 1970s ‘stache came back into fashion and what, exactly, Liam means by “stuff”): Really. So hot means good-looking? But you didn’t think this guy was good looking?

Liam: No. It was just weird. Why would someone want a magazine like that do you think?

Mommy: Well… I guess some people like to look at naked bodies. So they make magazines that they think people will buy.

Liam: Like they do with legos. Always making things so you want new stuff?

Mommy: Same idea, I guess, right.

Liam (pjs on, teeth brushed): Can I play Wii now?

Clearly, in the battle between “gadgets” and “naked” that rages constantly in the male brain, electronica is winning – at least for now. I wonder how much longer?

Continue Reading · on May 4, 2009 in Children, Kids

Learning the Language

Thumbnail image for bakugan.jpgI haven’t posted in a while, mostly because of the holidays, but also because I’ve been trying to learn a new language. Liam has found a new obsession, one that has (temporarily?) supplanted Pokemon and even Star Wars: Bakugan. Bakugan apparently started on the Cartoon Network and is aimed (like so much of television and the movies – Adam Sandler, anyone?) at ten year old boys, which to Liam is the age of ultimate sophistication. 

The Bakugan TV show exists, as near as I can tell, as a platform to sell toys, video games, trading cards, and web applications. The genius of the story rests in its complexity, the endless lists of minutiae that governs each and every character. Here is what I learned the other morning when I walked Liam to school: there is a Bakugan who has 700Gs, which is the most Gs but you can get more Gs if you use a Masquerade card and then you get 800Gs but then in a battle with Mantris you can actually increase to 1000Gs and that’s the most you can ever get so you can win.

Actually, what Liam said was way more complicated than that, but as is the case when a middleish-aged person starts to learn a new language, I only caught about every other word.

Here are some tips from the Bakugan Strategy Corner that may help you see what a steep learning curve I’ve got ahead of me:

  • There’s no point in using Blaze, which only gives bonuses to Pyros, Aquos, and Ventos Bakugan if all your Bakugan are Haos!
  • The card Earth, Wind, and Fire combos nicely with Forest Fire. You let your opponent win that first battle, then on this battle, you’ll get a bonus from the Gate Card along with an extra 100 G-Power as your opponent will have more Gate Cards, and ANOTHER extra 50-G because of Forest Fire!

Now, I know that Earth, Wind, and Fire can make a person’s bootie shake like a house a-fire, but I don’t think that’s what’s being described here. What is being described? Um…It’s got something to do with rolling these little plastic balls onto cards that are magnetized and then the balls spring open into little figures while the players shout “bakugan brawl!” After the brawl, there is usually much shouting about rules and what is or is not fair. Then this process is repeated. And repeated.

All this rule-bound minutiae is obviously just training for what is to come: sports trivia (number of RBIs in a season, pitches thrown by left-handers in a playoff game, bases stolen by right-hand Dominican players with ponytails, etc). Or maybe sports trivia is simply compensation for lost youth: no grown man wants to be seen carrying around Bakugan balls or a Pokeman deck. But clearly the rules and details of these childhood games set up a template that will exclude the female equivalent: the minutiae of relationships: “I told you, they split up and now he’s dating her ex-roommate and she hooked up with an old friend but didn’t know that he’d also dated the ex-roommate and now she’s furious at the roommate but the roommate doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong…”

It will come as no suprise at this point if I tell you that I’m not a fan of the games that Liam loves, just as I’m not a fan of sports trivia. I think it’s all…dull. There. I said it. Boring, maybe even bordering on pointless. I don’t get it. And I don’t particularly want to get it. Yes, I cheer for the Mets (a pre-condition for marriage) and we go to the occasional baseball game, and I even usually learn the starting line-up (by the end of the summer). But that’s about it.

As parents, of course, we all spend time doing things we don’t want to do, and pretending we’re interested when we’re not (ever made a grocery list or compose an email while reading a bedtime story for the eight gazillionth time?). No one ever warns you about the boredom that accompanies so much of being a parent. It’s not in any of the parenting books.

But Liam’s love affair with Bakugan seems different, somehow, because now he’s eight and seems more and more like … like a boy, and not a child. His silly game gets wound up in my questions and fears about being the mother of a boy: how will I find common ground with him, as he grows up?

A few years ago, I saw a mother on the beach with her two sons, who looked to be in early adolescence. The three of them were playing lacrosse together – the boys clearly better than their mother – and they seemed to be having a good time. But watching them, I wondered if that mother would really rather be taking a long walk, or sitting in her lounge chair reading trashy novels, instead of dashing around on the sand shouting “good pass!”

Each time I found out that I was pregnant with a boy, I was amazed. It is a strange thing, if you think about it: I mean, tomatoes don’t suddenly sprout, you know, beans or onions or some other non-tomato vegetable. But women give birth to…men. For clarity’s sake, men should give birth to boys and women to girls; it’s really the only logical system. Instead, I’ve given birth to this creature who shared everything with me for the first years of his life and now he walks by a table and flips the magazines on the floor, and when I ask him why, he just stares at me and shrugs.

The mother of boys. Sometimes I think I should start a support group for women without daughters – we can all call each other and chat, when we’re in our late sixties, and ask one another all the questions that sons never do. My mother, by way of consolation, insists that boys treat their mothers like queens and while that may be true, that’s not the type of relationship I’m looking for (unless the rest of the world would like to chime in and agree to crown me empress of the planet, in which case maybe we can work something out). 

Liam is, actually, not a very typical eight-year-old-boy – he cheerfully spent an hour tonight after dinner making a beaded necklace for himself, carefully selecting various shapes of pink beads. (And, yes, I realize that “normal” is a loaded word, but still, you know what I mean). But even so, he has that need to hurl self and others through space, and the inability to sit at the dinner table without tapping, chirping, drumming, whistling, gurgling…and, of course, the insatiable desire for tiny factoids that he can fit together into intricate schema that will become the winning strategy for The Game.

And his love for The Game makes me wonder: do I have to learn the language of Bakugan to stay close to my son?

Continue Reading · on December 28, 2008 in Gender, Kids

In which a four-year old ponders The Big Questions

Thumbnail image for pacifier2.jpgI promised myself I wouldn’t write any more Palin-ontology posts. Susan, on the clothesline blog ( suggests that we should all shut about Sarah and concentrate instead on getting Obama elected, so that Sarah will slink back (in all senses of “slink”) to The Refuge State and concentrate on her per diem paychecks (suspended during the campaign) and on making sure that all of Alaska gets their hearts right with god.

So instead I will write … about my children. The younger one. He’s four years old and deeply attached to what we call his “little plastic friend” (or LPF, aka his pacifier). He calls the LPF his “nookie,” and boy you should see the heads swivel on crowded Manhattan streets when this child calls out from his stroller (or the back of my bike, or as he trots along beside me holding my hand), “I WANT NOOKIE! NOOKIE, NOOKIE, NOOKIE!”

I imagine grown men walk by him and mutter to themselves, “Me too, kid, me too.”

IMG_1224.JPGExcept when thwarted in his desire for nookie, Caleb is a pretty cheerful little boy (and hey, aren’t we all crabby when we’re thwarted in that particular desire?). He’s usually all dimples and smiles — and the occasional right hook, but that’s another post.

So the other morning, as we stood waiting for the elevator to go to school, on a lovely September day, it seemed out of character for him to be frowning, mournful, as worried as a shareholder in Lehman Brothers. He chewed on his nookie like a poker-playing old man chews on a cigar.

Me: Caleb, what’s wrong? You look so sad.

Caleb: I don’t want to get old, Mommy.  I don’t want to die.

Me neither, kid, me neither.

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Continue Reading · on September 10, 2008 in Kids, Parenting

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