Friday, October 19, 2007

The Truth about Happiness

My eyes nervously scan the display of brightly colored pictures. An attractive bulletin board display of kids’ artwork, highlighting their Second Steps curriculum about feelings.

What makes you happy?” chirps the title above the board.

I see a few pictures, mostly drawn in pink or green, showing stick people and flowers, authored by Megans and Amelias and Annas, that say things like “I’m happy when my mom hugs me” or “I’m happy when I’m with my family.” But somehow, my eyes are magnetically drawn (by the Force, possibly?) to a picture drawn in yellow crayon in the center of the display.
“I’m happy when my mom takes me to a Star Wars parade.” By Lance.

(photo coming soon)

Nice. His happiness is based on a lie, since he’s never been to a parade, let alone a Star Wars parade. I just remembered he saw some people in Star Wars costumes on tv in the Rose Parade last year, so I have to come clean--it's not a complete lie.

His last drawing was “I’m scared of thunder and lightning,” which was reasonable, if somewhat exaggerated. But I have seen that his favorite book is “Attack of the Clones” and I was briefly afraid that his choice for “Where would you like to eat green eggs and ham?” was “With Darth Vader.” Luckily, someone else beat him to it.

Quickly, I search for the only thing that will keep me from falling to my knees, wailing and gnashing my teeth. Aha! “Transformers make me happy.” By one of Lance’s friends, of course a boy. And even better, from the famous you-have-to-wear-cool-clothes-to-be-my-friend boy: “I’m happy when my mom buys me Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Zurg toys.” And last but not least, “I’m happy when I get to be a pirate at school.” Lance just finished telling me that it was “very important” to that boy that he wore a belt every day and his pirate bandana. I can just imagine the morning getting dressed battles in that house.

Redemption! It’s not my parenting problem, it’s that darn Y chromosome. I guess I should be happy I made it on the picture at all—at least I took him to the parade. I’ll just have to wait on Audrey for the hugs and flowers of happiness. And on a positive note, the picture was wonderful – lots of little alien and starship-looking circles with legs and wings, and I’m sure “shooter guns.” But at least he’s using his imagination and his crayons. Maybe I could use a little Jedi mind trick on him one of these days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Slip sliding away…

Thanks to Paul Simon for the title...

I knew Lance would eventually start this. I’ve known it since December 14, 2002, when the doctor announced, “I see a penis.” He’s a boy. But he’s always been a Mama’s boy, and he’s been very verbal and dramatic, and despite being very active and physical, very much LIKE me—a girl.

But suddenly I am faced with almost daily flashes of his boy-ness, and the fact that he is running headfirst into the social pressures of being male. He has always been physical, needing to be outside running around. And I’ll admit I don’t quite “get” the love of digging in the dirt, but I think I did at his age. But he’s always had lots of girls to play with, thanks to most of my friends having girls first. And he’s happily played Princesses and dress-up for years (see future blackmail pictures of the pink butterfly costume and Ariel mermaid costume, complete with shoes). He even went through a princess-obsession phase last year, devouring Disney stories and fairy tales like a hungry ogre.

Not this year. It’s not just the “everything is a gun” or obsession with Superheroes and Star Wars. He’s a shining example of the budding male ego, thanks in part to his budding friendship with two boys at preschool – He was friends with them last year, but this year it’s going to a new level, with one boy clearly at the lead. Lance reports that his friend "hates girls, hates princesses, and thinks Barbies are stupid." He likes to chase the girls in the gym and play superheroes. Now of course I’ll admit that Lance likes to do much of these things on his own, but he's always had girl friends and happily played Princesses with them. His friend has two older sisters, which is probably the root of the problem—he’s forging his own identity.

Even more troubling is the insecurity I see in Lance. His friend is clearly the leader, and Lance has actually said things like, “He said I can’t play with so-and-so." "If he comes over we have to hide my Beauty and the Beast toys or the princess toothpaste (which, by the way, we only have because he prefers the bubble gum flavor to Power Rangers Fruit Burst),” or “He said we have to chase the girls,” or “I’m not going to a girl’s birthday party because we hate girls.” His own opinions are bad enough, but if he’s so worried about wanting these boys to like him at this age, I can’t stand the thought of junior high!

And he’s a compulsive liar. I think it’s the ego thing—have to be first, best, smartest, fastest. He tells the most amazing stories, but when they’re couched as truth, I’ll have to admit I get irritated. He has claimed to be a better baseball player than Ichiro, faster than a track star and Dash on the Incredibles, and taller than everyone. I am trying to go along with it, but I just can’t let him get away with the lying. It’s crossed over into other areas, like hitting someone at school (that’s another whole story) and then telling the teacher “someone else made me do it” or “I didn’t do it.” We’ve had many conversations about the difference between truth and stories, and lying and fibbing, and using your imagination for positive things. I cringe at the thought of what he’s told his teachers, and what they think of me.

There’s a new villain in town now. I asked Lance if he wanted to bring “shooshy pants” (like nylon running pants/sweat pants) as his extra pants on the pumpkin patch field trip day, and he said, “No, shooshy pants aren’t cool. A. says I have to look cool to be his friend.” I just about went through the roof, but calmly talked about how it’s your personality that makes you cool, and if you’re nice to other people and not what you wear. But I could see his face – I was just the blurred Charlie Brown adult voice “Waah wahh wahh wahh.”

He is a lot like Pat, so that’s both wonderful and frustrating. The black and white, no gray area attitude is hard for me. And he’s super competitive, so looking at Pat, it’s doubtful that’s something Lance will grow out of. We are working on sportsmanship and hopefully getting into team sports like soccer or t-ball next year will help improve that.

I always joke that “peer pressure will get him eventually,” more for things like potty training or crying for Mommy when he falls down. But the truth is, peer pressure already has him. It’s scary how stealthy it is, sneaking in at preschool and Target and in our words and the little amount of TV commercials he actually watches. (Tons of movies and DVD and OnDemand, yes, but not much network TV). I often wish we lived in the middle of a wheat field with only wooden blocks for toys.

Let’s not even get started with Audrey. I am nervous about Lance growing up in this crazy world, but am downright terrified about raising a girl. Macho ego is one thing, but body image and self-esteem and self-worth and mean girls is an entirely different side, one that I’m not excited to venture into. So while I’m wishing her older so they can play together better or so we can go somewhere without worrying about her naps, I’m going to remind myself that soon enough, she’ll be 12 and heartbroken because some dumb boy doesn’t like her or because some other girl has left her out of the group or because she’s not tall enough or thin enough or doesn’t have big enough breasts. At least I’ll be able to sympathize in that department. Lately with Lance I am just at a loss, in uncharted territory, like I got off the elevator at the wrong floor or talked my way into a job that I’m not qualified to hold.