When I had kids and they all had penises, I figured that Bill would have them doing sporty things. I resolved that I would dedicate myself to making sure that each of them had a hobby he adored and could turn to when his knees had been replaced and his gut was lopping over his belt.
I began early, by buying cheap musical instruments and leaving them lying around. I’d already discovered that boys screwed with anything in their path. Why not sow the path with items I wanted them to find?
Finn’s first drum was actually made out of a pancake box and some string. He wore it with pride in this picture from 2000:
(The training potty in the background demonstrates that I was using the same “leave it around and boys will use it” theory of potty training, which was a bust.)
We never listened to Barney or Disney music in the car. I started the guys on the Beatles and Elvis and worked my way up through Blondie, Steely Dan and the Ramones, the history of rap, Johnny Cash, grunge, and everything else on my iPod. When they got old enough to understand cusses, I had to cut out the Buzzcocks and Eminem and “My Humps“, but overall they got a solid foundation of a variety of musical styles.
A year later Finn progressed to a real drum.
By then he knew that he needed to enlist his brothers in his musical journey and they were happy to oblige. Drew gravitated to the guitar while Porter would happily play anything, including kazoo. I banned the kazoo after an hour.
In 2003 Finn had just turned eight. Santa brought him the coolest tiny drum set ever. He banged on it all day and begged for lessons.
He’s now gone through five years of lessons and a set of drums from the pawn shop. After his third year of lessons we decided to invest in the drums you see here. For Christmas and his birthday he asks for a new cymbal or a double bass pedal or some other addition. Apparently drums and their accessories can expand until they engulf your entire basement, leaving only enough room for your family to huddle in the corner when the tornado sirens blare.
Here’s a snippet of what I hear every afternoon.
I can sleep through gutbusting jam sessions like this. I think that makes me mom of the year.
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Finn bought a Barack Obama T shirt several weeks ago and has been wearing it to school. That may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but here in Alabama, in the conservative Tiny Kingdom, he might as well have gone naked and painted “I HATE FOOTBALL”on his butt and he’d have gotten the same reaction. He reported engaging in several “lively discussions” which I was happy to hear about. He was also on the receiving end of some insults, which were unfortunate but not unexpected. He garnered a few high fives in the halls as well.
Overall, I was proud that he had the balls to stand up for what he believed in a very visible way, especially at such a tricky age. He’ll be thirteen next month, and about fainted when I picked up cross-country carpool and got out of the car and walked across the parking lot to talk to a friend, thus exposing myself to his friends. I was dressed and everything, and I think I’m a reasonably cute mom, but he acted as if a haggard witch had emerged from the minivan specifically to embarrass him.
The day after the election he wore his shirt in celebration, although he said he was careful to remain quiet and let his shirt do the talking.
“But when I got to the cafeteria, it was awesome,” he told me. “Most of the lunchroom staff is African-American, and when they saw my shirt the man who helps replace the bins of food pointed and said ‘Cool shirt,’ so I said ‘Barack On.’ And the lunchroom lady said ‘Oh honey, how you doin’ today?’ and gave me like seven chicken fingers and usually they give you four.”
“Sounds good,” I said.
“My friends were jealous, but I don’t think the cafeteria ladies were spreading the wealth around. I think they were just celebrating.”
That’s a relief.
Two years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: My Name Is Anne Glamore and I Am A Member Of Curmudgeons Anonymous
Now that Finn has three weeks of Junior high under his belt and is no longer quite so mesmerized by the bountiful offerings of the lunchroom, he’s had time to make new friends and gauge how the adventure is affecting his old friends. The stress and thrill of it all has already caused some friction.
The Tiny Kingdom has four elementary schools which run from kindergarten through grade six, and the junior high brings the students from all four schools together for grades seven through nine. Our elementary school is the smallest of the four, and Finn says he has several classes in which he’s the only kid from his school. He knows plenty of guys from playing sports, though, and seems to have made new friends quickly.
I sat Finn down for a frank talk before school started. I felt like he’s mature enough to recognize the social maneuverings that inevitably go at this age, and he’d be better equipped to deal with them if he was given a heads up about their existence. He’s never lacked self-confidence, and I wanted him to be prepared to stand up for his friends if they were ostracized, and to defend himself if his self-worth was attacked.
I told him that when I was in junior high, I saw people change. Some people decided that sports were the only thing that mattered. Others sought popularity at all costs. People who had been friends for years split up because one decided the other wasn’t athletic enough, pretty enough, or cool enough. Others drifted apart because they matured at different rates, their interests changed, or they found they had different values.
I even got down to the nitty-gritty and talked about girls and the way they can act at this age. I felt qualified to give this talk because I have a vagina and survived junior high. ( You know, there’s a reason we all loved The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink and those other movies that showed the cliques that form and the cruelty kids can inflict on one another. It’s because they’re true.)
I told him that he might see girls dropping friends in order to join a “more popular” group. He might see a couple of girls accorded special power, just because of their perceived status. What was important for him to remember was to be there for his friends, especially the girls, because they’re in for a rough few years.
We talked about first impressions being important. Teachers and peers form opinions of you quickly, and once formed, they’re hard to change. On the other hand, you should try not to make the same mistake. Don’t judge someone as a loser because he or she looks different.
It’s a difficult assignment – we make snap judgments about people all the time. As an example, I reminded him of my irrational prejudice against double first names, which are extremely common in the South. My first reaction is to conclude that the parents are either indecisive or snooty. I have absolutely no evidence to back up either of these determinations, and I must often remind myself that in fact I have many close friends whose kids have two first names. They are just as entitled to believe that mothers who name their children after Scandinavian countries are ditzy, to say the least. See? We’re all different. Our quirks plus a Coke make the world go round.
Bill overheard part of our conversation and thought it was unnecessary. Neither his parents nor mine ever had such a discussion with us. But when I look at Finn, I see a whole lot of me, and I would have appreciated a warning about what lay ahead.
We had our talk about a month ago. I’ve already heard through the grapevine that there are girls jostling for position, turning their backs on friends they’ve had since first grade, in order to be accepted by the “in” group. Social climbing never stops, and I surely can’t prevent it. I can only hope that Finn can see the bigger picture and be there for his friends, no matter how many first names they have.
I have a post up at Deep South Moms. Check it out!
Three years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Not A Normal Day