Life is full of awkward moments. I’ve spent 41 years stringing them together, and there’s been no shortage of material since my oldest child became a teenager. It’s a regular grimace-fest here on a regular basis because anything I do embarrasses and mortifies this teenage child. You too can expect to encounter several awkward moments before your youngest heads off to University or runs away to marry the drummer in a Coldplay cover band.
Awkward Moment #1: Meeting Their First Boyfriend/Girlfriend
Meeting your son or daughter’s first romantic interest can be pretty awkward. No one is comfortable. Understand that there is no way you can make this better for anyone involved, so let any allusion of dignity go by the wayside. You can be wearing the newest fashion trends, have current music playing, and serve a delicious tried and true meal, but none of this will matter. You may as well pick them up after their movie date wearing fisherman hip waders and a crocheted beer can hat because you are not cool. Do you hear me? Of course you don’t; you’re like 100 years old.
I tried to play it cool when I met my daughter’s boyfriend for the first time. By the time he left (early, go figure) I had explained that our fireplace was actually a magic portal to another dimension and told him the story of how when I was a teenager I once peed on my boyfriends couch, necessitating an abrupt morning break-up lest he discover the stain before I had a chance to leave. (In the end I just flipped the cushion over and told him “I think we’re better as friends.”)
Awkward Moment #2: Disciplining Them in Front of Their Friends
Sometimes we need to correct and reprimand our kids in the moment. They’re like dogs during housebreaking in the way that you must correct the behaviour when it occurs because — just like dogs — teenagers have very short memories. The typical teenager is bombarded with information during their waking hours but lack a fully matured cerebral cortex to process the input. Simply put: dumb it down. Teens aren’t stupid but they don’t listen for long so your goal here is to be fast and effective. For example: When I need to get my daughter’s attention, say, at the mall when she’s with a group of peers, I go for the big guns. Yep; birth story. If she doesn’t answer me or respond to texts within a reasonable amount of time, I locate her and gather her and friends ’round for the haunting tale. “Hey, Daughter,” I start. “Remember that time I squeezed you out of my vagina?”
That’s as far as I’ve ever got. She’s usually in the car by the first beat on “vagina.”
Awkward Moment #3: When They “Catch” You
Lots of parents get caught “in the act” while their children are young, so what’s the big deal about getting found out when your children are teenagers? SO MUCH IS WRONG.
First of all, little kids will believe that you and Daddy were simply practicing for Leap Frog League try-out, but your teenager isn’t buying that. Additionally, they may even know how what you’re doing feels and could possibly be aware it feels sort of pretty good. Sex is something you want to put a lock-down on immediately. Do what an enterprising friend of mine did — put a few tennis balls in the dryer and shift laundry to every night at 9PM to buffer out Parental Sexy Time.
Awkward Moment #4: When You Catch Them
So your child — the one who bathed a grand total of twice from ages 11 to 14 — has started taking 45-minute showers every night. Your hot water bill is through the roof and no one can flush a toilet at night without causing third degree burns. Things are getting ridiculous and you think you need to put your foot down. Don’t. It doesn’t matter that no one else can shower until midnight and that your son’s hands are permanently water-logged and resemble dried apricots. You do not want to know what’s going on in there and unless you want to haul a 50lb laundry basket down to the laundry room every week, you’re best to just keep on keepin’ on. Trust me.
It can all seem like a bit much sometimes, having to watch and monitor everything we say and do to avoid awkward moments. My daughter won’t acknowledge my presence if I run into her in a public setting because “it’s embarrassing,” yet she once shit on my leg at a wedding.
I plan on spending my retirement years evening the score.
Image Sources: WikiCommons
I was born in 1973. Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada, a carton of eggs cost 45 cents, and construction began on the CN Tower in Toronto, so that future families could travel 114 stories up an elevator to experience being nauseous at 1100 feet.
My family wasn’t poor—at least not in the way others were. We didn’t have new coats every winter, but we had coats, and that was more than some of my classmates could say. I think it came more from the fact that my sister and I lived without a mother in our home. Our house was a bungalow we shared with my father, and it was in a nice neighbourhood where the bigger houses had paved driveways. Those kids could ride their bikes on their driveways, but we found fossils in the gravel of ours. Discovering forgotten ancient species was worth the skinned knees and dusty hands discovery required.
Our house was simple and clean enough, but no one planted flowers, and whatever car sat in the driveway leaked oil. My sister and I started the car once—far too young to do so, but not so to know better—because we wanted to listen to the radio. Being 1o and 8 years old and almost at least temporarily stupid, we did not understand the concept of manual transmission, yet somehow pushed the right pedals in the right order and promptly smashed the car into the fence. We also lit the backyard on fire using gasoline meant for the lawnmower to start the uncooperative charcoal BBQ. It worked to both cook the frozen steak and also in that it eliminated the need for a lawnmower for the season. I guess the takeaway here is that when I was young, parents left their children unsupervised and with access to flammable materials.
I had a pair of hand-me-down roller skates with a key I wore around my neck on a piece of twine (choking hazard), I was allowed to return glass pop bottles for the 10 cent refund (possible breakage), and I ate sandwiches my Gramma made me using cracked wheat bread and corn syrup (diabetes). If there is a God, he is surely providing my Grandmother all the roller sets she desires as payback for those delicious sandwiches. My sister and I ate mountains of them while we stuffed and rolled cigarettes on her fancy cigarette machine.
Ahh, the ’80s.
Do you remember Strawberry Shortcake? My friend down the street had the whole collection and the traveling case. She also had two parents and a matching bedroom set from Sears, so the Shortcake gang wasn’t my only provocation to hate her. I had my own Barbie castle, but it smelled of stale beer because I made it myself from empty beer cases. I loved it more than I could love a plastic one, and my memories of growing up—even the bad ones—don’t revolve around the material things I missed. Except Cougar boots—being a child in 1983 and not owning a pair of tan lace-up cougar boots with the red lining was like having a scarlet letter on your chest. I would have built myself a beer case house to live in if it meant I could have a pair of those boots.
I watched Sha-Na-Na and I ran around saying things like, “Wonder Twin powers, ACTIVATE!” And I was scared of Russia, and my father needed silence when the news was on, and on Friday nights if I was very, very quiet and sunk down low in the recliner chair, he would forget I was awake and I could stay up to watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. He would smoke at the table and I would pretend to be sleeping during the opening credits. The house smelled like cigarettes and the Lestoil cleaner we used to mop the kitchen floor, and Fridays were my favourite.
When I think about my childhood, it doesn’t smell like Strawberry Shortcake. It smells like clean linoleum and empty beer cases and fresh-rolled cigarettes and burnt grass.
It’s a good smell.
A version of this post first appeared at YummyMummyClub.ca. I write a weekly column there called Panic Button Years about parenting teenagers and all the super-fun that entails. Seriously; it’s a real party sometimes.
Image Source: WikiCommons
The kids are away this week and maybe even the one following that, so I am taking advantage of the time alone and keeping my mind off missing them by staying busy. I have completely dismantled their rooms in a spring cleaning-like frenzy. I have aired out mattresses and dusted ceilings, changed light bulbs and washed walls, filled holes and organized twig and bone collections according to tree species and animal family. And, not to brag, but this dog hasn’t shit in the house in like
3 days 1 day 4 hours. It’s like I’m a dog-training wizard or something. I should have a show.
I miss N and S of course, but the past few days have been nice. It feels like I am on vacation in my own house and if I want to eat Buffalo chicken dip and watch Sharknado 2 in my underwear no one is here to tell me I can’t, or that it’s improper, or that I’m scaring their friends, please Mommy you’re scaring Zachary and he’s supposed to have a sleep-over!
There has also been the opportunity to spend some time in the fresh air. Normally the kids walk the dog and she needs to get out a few times a day so I’ve been walking her in their absence. Of course this means I have to go outside. You know; where all the nature is. It turns out there is a whole lot of nature where I live, and also colourful plants called “flowers,” and something called a “walking trail.”
This is a big deal to someone who identifies primarily as a hermit. There are people out there! They sometimes smile at you and say “What a cute dog!” which I am mostly okay with except when I’m not and then I talk to them anyway but I feel itchy and want to come home right away and eat Buffalo chicken dip. But for the most part I am left alone and no one has yet asked me to buy more granola bars or wash their hoodie or go pick up Zachary for a sleepover.
Outside seems pretty cool. Now, I’ve always had a basic understanding of the day/night cycle, but did you know there is a huge ball of fire in the sky which emits light and also warms the skin and makes me feel happy? I am liking it outside! See you on the trail.
While I was inside this week I wrote some other things, my most favourite of which was a piece about breast cancer at Life in Pleasantville. Not that breast cancer is my favourite, but rather that the post was fun…er, the topic was…you know what? Just read it. It’s about breast cancer awareness and how small changes can make a difference in cutting your risk. Somethings we can’t control, like age (shit) or maybe aren’t fun, like cutting alcohol consumption (whut?) but have a read anyway:
Here’s what I expect of typical four year-old children: that they chew with their mouths closed when eating donuts and maybe don’t shit their pants too much. That’s about it on my childhood development chart because anyone who’s had or spend any length of time with a four year-old knows these creatures are basically puppies with speaking ability and less impulse control. I’ve had two four-year olds living in my house in the past, and here’s what I know about the fourth year of childhood development: It lasts six years.
Four year-olds cannot be expected to do much other than cuddle and torment and spill stuff, so when I heard about a four-year old boy being thrown out of a donut shop for asking a woman if she was pregnant, I rolled my eyes so hard I’m typing this with assistance. As for the boy’s error, when I was pregnant a donut shop was my second home, so logical conclusions and all that.*
When my son was 6 weeks old, I made a trip to the grocery store without him. The check-out clerk – noting my squishy midsection – asked “when my baby was due.” (In fairness, all my sections are squishy.) Instead of telling her he was currently out-of-utero and probably screaming himself blue in the face over my absence this very moment, I did what anyone in my position would do: I replied “In a few months.” I was so embarrassed for her at the error that I felt I had to make her comfortable despite her being the one who was wrong. This is because at that point in my life I still operated under the long-held conditioning that a woman should be “polite.” Upon hearing I was indeed “pregnant” the clerk then put her hand on my stomach and declared the fat rolls contained within the confines of my velour maternity leisure suit to be a future daughter and that “she was never wrong.”
This clerk was not four years-old, so I cut her some slack, and just simply never went back to that store, because the thought of having to concoct some tragic story about why I wasn’t getting bigger was so stressful that I was willing to pay $2 more a pound for butter across town.
It’s hard to tell if a woman is pregnant, and sometimes, maybe all the times, you just shouldn’t say anything. My own personal rule is that unless there is a large, suspicious puddle of fluid on the floor and a woman is screaming something about “the head,” or “crowning,” or “dear God, someone please call Jason!” then I just keep my eyes upward and talk about the weather.
Four year-old children are exempt from this rule because they are new here on this planet and like any life-form new to earth, they really just want to visit donut shops for a chocolate glazed and some cold milk.
* I once ordered two Boston creme donuts at a donut shop drive-thru when I was pregnant with my daughter. I drove away and soon discovered – TO MY HORROR – that neither of said donuts contained any cream at all. This was before cellular telephone technology became commonplace, so I drove around until I found a payphone with a phone book, and then I called the donut shop and blasted them through heaving tears, “NO CREAM! NO CREAM!”** and then I hung up and cried in a parking lot for several minutes before returning to work.
** This is absolutely true. You DO NOT mess with pregnant women and their donuts.
Without fail, every few months national magazines and news programs feature stories about, “The Cost of Raising a Child” and rarely do they mention anyone having a money tree. It’s usually parents of small children who pay the most attention to these features, because they’re new to the game and still gathering information about the enormous responsibility children are—emotionally and financially. And sure, babies can be pricey—what with diapers and clothing and $3000 diamond-crusted 4-wheel drive strollers—but as kids round the corner on their first decade, things level out a little. There are still costs, like sports equipment and shoes for feet that grow overnight, but there’s a window of time when kids don’t care so much about having everything brand new or brand name. This stage is what I refer to as the We-Can-Actually-Afford-Red-Meat-Again years.
This is also the time to plant a money tree if you can get a line on one. Or maybe talk to your financial adviser about funneling a little something into a fund for the second decade of your kid’s life, because even if your child gets a part-time job to help with upcoming expenses, you’re going to need back-up. Haha, I’m kidding. Who has a “financial planner?” If you do, you have no place here, my friend. Why don’t you go off and count your emeralds?
Here’s a little advice for the rest of us, specifically what you can expect to shell out between twelve years-old and Jesus-I-thought-they’d-never-move-out:
My daughter pays for her own make-up, other than what I’ve purchased to get her started. But I still need to buy shampoo and conditioner and deodorant and other items that make the experience of living in close proximity with a teen tolerable for the senses. If you have boys, then you know the goat-odour of which I speak. People snark on Axe and Old Spice, but there’s something to be said for a product which can turn what is essentially a barnyard animal in an Aeropostale t-shirt into something you can sit next to in a minivan.
Do you have a second car? Sell it. Sell your first car, too. You’ll need the money for gifts, because we celebrate everything these days and our teenagers know it. Gifts include (but are not limited to): birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Valentine’s Day, Confirmation, graduation (Grade 8 and High School), Easter, report cards, first periods, first date, first time . . . nope, she’s on her own there.
Not only do we give gifts for every event, we also celebrate with a party—parties for which your teen will need extensive costumery and matching shoes, prom, Spring Formal, Spring Semi-Formal, Almost Spring Semi-Formal, It’s Not Quite Spring Fling Flon Dance-a-athon, etc. Forget about suggesting a second-hand shop, unless you have achieved expert eye-roll avoidance techniques. This shit is NOT for beginners.
This category includes cell phones, internet use, tablets, laptops for homework, iPods, and anything else which enables us to track, trace, stalk, watch, observe, or otherwise be aware of where our teens are and what they are doing. I’m not a proponent of GPS tracking devices specifically for the purpose of knowing our teenagers’ every move, because they deserve the freedom to make mistakes and have some fun that we shouldn’t know about until it comes out at a Thanksgiving dinner 30 years later, in a “Wanna hear a funny story about the time I told you I was at the cottage with Jane’s family, but I was really a roadie for Nine Inch Nails?” conversation, and ONLY after we’ve taken our heart pills. Techie stuff costs money and your teen is going to want them all, and some of them they do actually need, so you’re likely going to at least subsidize their cost. Expect to upgrade annually from ages 13-18. Expected cost during dependent years for internet access, routers, new iPod screens, phone plans, etc? Four kabillion dollars, or seven years of money tree crops.
I’m not buying a car for my child. I drove my father’s huge purple Econoline van with a sunset painted on the side and that was good enough for me. It was pretty awesome, actually. It had no backseat and there was lots of room to lay down a blanket and you could . . . on second thought, perhaps I will get her a car, but something small, like a Smart Car or a Chevette—something with no head or leg or laying-down-on-a-blanket room. But I want her to drive safely regardless and so she’ll need Driver’s Ed, and at last check that cost half a kidney, your firstborn, and seven magic rubies. And until they drive, they’ll need bus passes and chauffeur services courtesy of you.
Teeth (Maybe plant a row of Money Trees)
These have an entire sub-category unto themselves, because dental care is crazy expensive and not everyone has insurance coverage. Here’s a handy formula to help you determine if your child will need braces in the future, so that you can start saving now if necessary:
Does your child have teeth?
If the answer to this question is “yes,” then your child will need braces. Expect to pay upwards of an entire year’s salary. If you’re super lucky, like our family, you will also hear awesome orthodontic phrases, like “jaw surgery” and “extensive tooth extraction” and “We’re not sure why but you were born without adult molars but hahaha don’t worry we’ll give you implants on a one hundred year payment plan.”
(Sticks fingers in ears . . . I CAN’T HEAR YOU . . .)
So, parents of toddlers and school-age children, you may want to reconsider buying that additional Wii game or $200 pair of snow pants this year. Teenagers are expensive to keep and I haven’t even touched on extracurricular sports, like hockey and horseback riding, and soccer, and school-costs, and . . .
Put that money into a savings bond or start dropping hints to your kids about maybe “getting their own place” before they get too comfy in suburbia.
A version of this post first appeared at YummyMummyClub.ca in January 2014. I write a semi-weekly column there called Panic Button Years about having teenagers in the house. Good times, friends; good times.
This week I also wrote at iVillage Canada about a Michigan prison put their inmates in black and white stripes because orange jumpsuits are cool now.Thanks a lot, Ed Hardy clothing.
Canadians love their summers and it’s no wonder. We wait patiently through months and months of snow and ice until finally, one day, the smell of thawing dog shit fills the air and we smile, knowing warmer weather is upon us. Soon snow will give way to grass and delicious seasonal fruit will fill long vacant bowls on kitchen tables across the land. And with the bountiful harvest come the scourge of a nation, the fruit flies and they are driving me crazy.
I get invaded by fruit flies every year. I’m not sure why they seem to target me specifically, but they do and I now I heave to deal with it. I don’t like to think too hard about where they come from. All I know is that they weren’t here before the fruit came in so clearly they came in on the fruit. While I almost always wash the fruit before I eat it, sometim…oh sweet Jesus. I’m eating larvae, aren’t I?
The fruit fly issue isn’t an isolated one. It’s a long, drawn out annual battle of wits and power and I am NOT GOING TO LOSE THIS YEAR. I’ve tried all the Pinterest tricks, from the paper funnel in sugar water (my son drank it and used the cone as a spit-ball cannon), to the small glass of “decoy” wine (made the flies drunk and copulate more aggressively) to stern lectures (they have incredibly short attention spans for something with an 8 day life cycle).
Fruit flies aren’t exciting bugs like lice or centipedes. At least with those creatures you get a nod of sympathy from the pharmacist or the fireman you called to destroy them. With fruit flies all you get is a “This is not an appropriate 911 emergency call.” But those people – those people – they don’t quite understand what you’re dealing with. This is SERIOUS BUSINESS.
Here’s my updated strategy for Summer 2014 to eradicate these flying assholes while maintaining my sanity:
1. Show These Fruit Flies Who’s Boss
I’ll stop eating fruit. This may be harsh, but I am sick of having tiny brown bugs cover every inch of counter-top real estate. I may lose out on vitamins and fiber, but a little bit of scurvy and some constipation never killed anyone. This may seem harsh, but I am an adult and sometimes adults need to make tough decisions, like opting for no balanced nutrition.
2. Remove All Food from the Home
Failing that, I will remove all food and foodstuffs from the home. We will eat entirely at restaurants, taking no meal inside the confines of our home but rather only accepting food handed to us through sliding windows. I don’t care if it takes until October; I will dine out every single meal until the fruit flies understand I am not fooling around.
Desperate times often call for aerosol cans of poison and drunken phone calls to realtors. If things persist beyond a reasonable amount of time, we’ll probably need to move.
Fruit fly populations are out of control, with no end in sight,as shown by a candid “party” shot.
Image Source: WikiCommons
I knew when we decided to buy the kids a puppy that it would necessitate becoming more active. For me, mostly. N is already on his feet 18 hours a day because there are things to be discovered and taken apart and smashed and then duct-taped back together and S is always walking either to or from the mall. I work from home in a primarily seated position unless I happen to be curled up under my desk during one of my weekly self-pity crying jags. I’M FINE, SERIOUSLY.
The deal was that the kids would be primarily responsible for taking the dog for walks. Although Harlow is (reportedly) a pug/French bulldog cross (a “Frug” if you’re playing the “let’s make up cute names for mutts so we can sell ‘em for more monies” game) and these breeds supposedly don’t require as much exercise as larger dogs, I still like to get her out a few times a day. She’s happier, and in turn doesn’t eat too many of our shoes and reduces her indoor shitting by up to 75%. So I get her out midday when the kids are at school, but during summer vacation they have been doing it.
N hadn’t seen Harlow on her afternoon walks that often until now, and I don’t think he realized exactly how much energy she has right after lunch. Last week he accidentally dropped her leash in the yard and he was… well, I think he’s finally met his match, energy-wise.
Also, I think she may be part jackrabbit. If you have knowledge of such creatures, please advise.
(Sorry for the upright view; I grabbed my phone as soon as N started chasing her and I forgot to flip it. Also sorry about my laugh. I’m seeing a laugh coach.)
S will be in grade ten next year. (I can’t continue to find different pronouns for my kids on this blog; it’s exhausting. So here: my daughter’s name is “S.” Or is it?)
Although we live in the same town now as when I grew up, S and I have different high schools due to shifting borders and population flux. My father knew everyone in our town; I think my neighbours name is Jeff.
I drove her past my old high school so she could see how different it is from her school and since she is having a current infatuation with movie high school architecture, I wanted to see how mine old school stacked up.
My high school was built in 1960. My parents went to this same high school and some of the staff stuck around long enough to collect well-earned pensions and so they became my teachers also. I was called by my mother’s or my aunt’s name at least once a week.
I drove into the parking-lot and although I recognize it’s summer vacation and the school is effectively abandoned for 8 weeks, the place looked like a real shithole. The gardens were thick with weeds and overgrown vegetation. Nothing was pruned and knee-high thistles grew from cracks in the buckled sidewalk. Had I missed something? Had the school closed? I looked in a dirty window and there were still books and desks and chairs and chalk and all of the other educational accoutrement one associates with school. It hadn’t been abandoned.
There are a set of doors at the edge of the cafeteria that open into a small courtyard. When it was warm enough we would prop them open and the cafeteria jukebox would play Depeche Mode or Kim Mitchell or Guns N’ Roses while we smoked menthol cigarettes we stole from our mothers or – if you had money – Du Maurier or Player’s Light. We could lean against the doors and blow smoke into the school, a small but measurable rebellion from teenagers who, looking back, had it pretty good.
The doors are still brown, but they’re not dark and glossy like they were before. Now they look like stale chocolate, two bars that fell behind the display rack and weathered. The chain link fencing around the football field is sagging and portions are patched with a bright plastic safety fencing that rather than injecting colour into an otherwise barren landscape makes it seem brash, like a too-bold kid at a party of wallflowers.
I tried to hide it but I cried a little bit and before I got swept up in a great crushing wave of nostalgia and perimenopausal emotion, I made S promise to hide my John Prine CD’s when we got home.
It’s just a goddamn high school. Who cares, right? Sure, I know nostalgia affords us the benefit of selective amnesia but for the most part those were happy days. The faded exterior was smaller – squatter and less 3-dimensional somehow – and I’m sure if I tried I could pick up the two small portables and throw them like dice across the back field.Sometimes it was shitty there but we were young and at least the potential for better times ahead existed. Now? No one cares enough to pull the dandelions out of a garden where I got my first real kiss, a slobbery, gooey offering from a blonde boy in an Ozzy Osbourne jean jacket.
Image courtesy of WikiCommons
The kids have been home for just two weeks and it’s been a strange sort of summer so far. We’ve already done a few trips – including riding in giant water-filled orbs and off-roading in adventure buggies – but the teenager has a job this year and my ten year-old is having what can only be described as a serious hunger management issue.
The jist of it all is that I spend most of my waking hours driving places, washing dishes, and explaining that no, you cannot plug a crock pot into the car lighter so it stays hot why we drive your sister to work. If his legs really are hollow (as I suspect,) I will need a second mortgage to feed this kid into his teen years or until he runs away to become a blacksmith’s apprentice.
How is is possible that someone who weighs less than 70 pounds can put away close to that in food every day? It doesn’t make sense, and if anyone has a line on home tapeworm testing kits that don’t interlude the instructions “Get a flashlight and explore the anal area” then I am all ears.
As for the dog. Well. Thank god for her. I really enjoy having her here, as do the kids, especially my son who she helps keep busy. (And he hasn’t tried to eat her yet.)
Although, true be told, his nickname for her of “Baby Girl” makes me cringe and I’m concerned for his dating future if this habit remains. She seems to like us well enough, although if you hear about any unexplained damage to my family’s home or their persons, you may want to point to this, which I put here mostly so I have a record; a blog is the equivalent to mailing yourself a registered letter in 1995:
As an update to the job search bitch and moan post a few weeks ago, I’m fairly busy now. It’s a good busy, but a “could use more” busy so keep your positive thoughts coming if you’re so inclined. Luckily I work with some amazing editors and publication owners and every single day I get up ready and excited about what the day will bring.
Here are a few recent articles I’ve written and I’d love it if you checked them out: I am a new contributor at Life in Pleasantville, aptly name by the lovely Candace Derickx. This week I did some research (see: watched movies and laughed my ass off covered in potato chip crumbs) for a list of Must-See Summer Movies. Click the image to read the posts, and please leave me a comment if you think I’ve left a good one out.
I’m also talking teens at YummyMummyClub.ca where I write Panic Button Years – a weekly column on topics revolving around raising a teenager. Good times, right parents? Hahaha – I’m kidding they’re mostly horrible. (wink)
Click image to read here about following your kids on social media, and why I (sorta) don’t.
When my daughter was young I could insist she wear a jacket. I haven’t been able to make her wear a hat since winter 2009, but I stood firm at a coat. When she suddenly resisted wearing it, I discovered someone made a mean comment about her coat. It was a singular incident by a child who probably just forgot how to use her filter that day. Was this child a bully? No. Did she make my daughter feel like shit? Yes. Did this girl act like an asshole? Kinda. My daughter let it go and there’s never been an issue with this girl since because I burned her house down.
Of course I didn’t. But that’s how the one little incident made me feel and I can’t imagine the torture parents of bullied children (not to mention the kids!) live through every day. I have no idea how the parents of truly bullied children hold their shit together because if my kid had to face a relentless tormentor every day, I would be cracking the knuckles on my hammer hand and taking off my earrings with the other.
The problem is that I remember everything. This coat thing was a silly little incident with no permanent damage, but I remember. I remember the coat, the month, the comment, all of it. I wanted to go down to that school and say assholish things to this girl myself.
I have some personal experience with bullies as well (I’m also familiar with the activity of assholes, being an on-again/off-again member of that club myself). High school was a good experience for me; I was “popular” – not “Steff” in Pretty in Pink popular – but I did okay. Before that I was in a small middle school and my time there was not always pleasant. I didn’t know what each day would bring because the target was always moving. One day it was my hair, the next it was my clothing. There was nothing several girls couldn’t find fault with and something as insignificant as what I packed in my lunch would draw comments and taunting. I was physically hurt, my locker defaced, and ugh. It was shitty, okay?
It was a repeated, relentless practice of humiliation which hurt me emotionally and physically over many months, brought about by nothing more than a bully’s urge to inflict suffering. Waking up every day with dread in your stomach is no way to live. It changes you. You constantly feel like you’re going to barf and you make no uncalculated moves. The way you walk to the bus stop, when you answer a teachers question, how you brush your hair, what soap you use – your life is not your own. You are merely a body – a vehicle – functioning as quietly as possible in order to remain under a radar which happens to be manned by a control room of fucking monsters.
Bullies are assholes, no question. But the converse is not always true.
A bully uses coercion and intimidation to blow fear into every corner of your life for a sustained period of time. An asshole merely makes it unpleasant or uncomfortable for a limited period.
The girls in my sixth grade class were bullies. Even today, thirty years later, I hope they’re eaten by bears.
But what about people who critique your work in less than flattering terms, or tell you you’re a bad mom for because of (insert something they would NEVER do here). How about the stranger who calls your kid a brat or looks at your shopping cart full of toaster strudel and a jumbo bottle of lube and gives you major stink-eye? Or the guy who laughs out loud when you have trouble fitting into your airplane seat? Or the kid on a bike who cuts you off and, when you unroll your window to see if he’s okay, calls you a whore? Or the pizzeria who forgets your double cheese every single time even though you are clear and explicit about its importance?
Assholes, every one.
Every person deserves the freedom to live their life and seek joy in ways they see fit, in safe conditions free from reprisal or unwarranted antagonism from others. We all experience unkindness at one time or another and most likely we’ve all contributed to these situations too, whether overtly or by omission. There are bullies out there – lots of them, who deserve to be eaten by bears even – but when we dilute the meaning and alter the definition of the word by calling everyone who has an opinion or acts like an asshole a bully, it loses its potency. Remember the good old days back in 2008 when “douche bag” still had some sting? We had a good thing going there with and we screwed it up through overuse, and now the internet scrambles for saltier words with more panache.
I implore you to really think about the meaning and the difference between “bully” and “asshole.” Because only you can prevent “bully” from becoming the “douche bag” of tomorrow.
*this is an edited version of a post which I first wrote at MamaPop.com. Sadly, it’s still all true and my tormenters have yet to be eaten by bears.