One of the greatest gifts my son gives to me is the gift of having a conversation with someone who has an innocent, honest, child’s perspective. From the moment he uttered is first word, “bird,” we’ve had conversations that I cherish. Mind you, sometimes the topics are comical. Other times he demonstrates wisdom beyond his six years. Other times are cringe-worthy. A few of those occurred in our recent conversation history.
What’s the Difference? I’m not that mom who hides the local and national news from Tommy. I get why people make that choice, but I choose to let him see all of the world, good and bad. I watch the local news every morning and evening. And by watch, I mean it’s on in the background while I perform the chores and routines for the day. Sometimes I pause and watch a story. Most of the time it’s just on and I catch the drift while I cook, clean, and carry-on with the life events. Sometimes Tommy is paying attention. Most of the time he is reading or playing on his tablet or doing what a six-year-old deems important. I do recall one evening though when the national news was featuring a story about a family with an autistic child. Tommy asked me what autism is and I explained how it is something a person has and it can be different for every person. A person with autism has a brain that is fine, it just works differently. Sometimes a person with autism has trouble speaking, or showing emotions, or handling loud situations. Sometimes the way they handle those situations is by repeating things, or flapping their hands, or fidgeting.
“Do I have autism, Mom,” he asked.
“No, Tommy, you do not.”
“Do I know anyone who does,” he pushed further.
I thought for a minute and replied, “Jacob does. You know how Jacob likes to talk about the same thing and how he always has his string? Those are things for Jacob that help him when he thinks and talks to people.” Tommy pauses and says, “It doesn’t matter anyway. I like Jacob.”
And there it is. To Tommy, his neighbor and playmate was Just Jacob. Not a child with autism. Not someone that the world might see as different. I believe that’s the beginning of empathy building. We’re all really different in some way. Sometimes the difference might qualify under some kind of diagnosis umbrella. Sometimes the difference might just be a difference. It shouldn’t matter. It’s the person who matters. I think that’s what Tommy meant.
Speaking of Differences
“Mom it’s weird because on that commercial the mom was Black and the dad was White and that’s not supposed to be how it is. White people should be with White people and Black people should be with Black people,” Tommy declared from the living room while I was making dinner one evening this past winter.
Well, let’s just stop the world right now and address this misconception. I turned the burners off and sat him down on the couch next to me.
“Let me tell you who should be together. People who should be together are the people who are going to treat each other with respect. With love. And take care of each other. Skin color has nothing to do with that. You’re going to see all kinds of moms and dads. What matters is how they treat each other and how they love their kids. And that is that.”
“Okay, okay,” he replied.
I don’t know where that declaration came from and, frankly, I don’t care. What is important is that when an opinion such as that is made, I seize the moment and make it the highest priority to show him how it’s flawed. Why it’s wrong. Why it goes against the moral fiber of love and acceptance and understanding that we must live by.
I’m seeing a pattern here that Tommy is noticing things in the world that usually passed him by. His egocentrism is waning away. However, what replaces it is up to me and those close to him with influence. This is the time to take his questions and comments and noticings and help Tommy see them through the correct lens.
On Mommy Matters
One of the things I marvel at in conversations is Tommy’s quick wit and delivery. I can think of two incidents. One happened about a year and a half ago. In the course of two weeks I had told him that A) his dad and I were going to get a divorce and B) once upon a time I was married to a different person. That’s right, I had a Starter Husband and then Tommy’s dad was Husband Number Two.
Tommy accepted both pieces of information rather well. It probably helped that I was driving at the time too, with Tommy in the backseat, with nowhere to go. I highly recommend this technique if you have news to give your kids and you want a no escape route option. Some of our best conversations have occurred while I was driving and he was in the backseat.
Anyway, a few days after I told Tommy about having a husband before his dad, we were eating dinner at Chile’s. The great thing about Chile’s is that they have a game kiosk on each table. Tommy and I usually play Life while we wait for our food. As we played, my pawn moved to a space that was marked, “Gets Married.” I groaned.
Tommy said, “What’s the matter, Mom? Two husbands enough for you?”
Listen, buddy, if I want snarky comments about my relationship choices, I have plenty of people who will gladly share their thoughts. Keep your wise-cracking, Quick Draw McGraw comments to yourself.
Then, just this morning, this BLESSED Easter morning, Tommy and I were eating the spinach frittata that we made together, and I explain that the recipe is from the Whole30 plan, which I was starting the next day.
“Well, you know how I had to do a factory reset on your iPad to get it to work correctly?” He nods. “The Whole30 plan is like that for your body. You don’t eat any dairy, or sugar, or grains, or gluten for 30 days because it helps to reset your body to find out what is good for it and what your body doesn’t like.” (I left out alcohol. No alcohol for 30 days. A moment of silence, please.)
“Why do you want to do that, Mom?”
“Well, my knees are bothering me and I also want this to go away,” as I rub my lower belly. This is one of The Judge’s most powerful weapons against me, and I want it gone.
“Eww, yeah! But Mom, if your belly is so fat why don’t you just wear a girdle?”
Just wear a girdle? JUST WEAR A GIRDLE? JUST WEAR A GIRDLE?
Hey, six-year-old, born in 2010, how in the name of Cool Ranch Doritos and Michelob Ultra do you know about GIRDLES and the proper use for them? I could almost, ALMOST, understand knowing about Spanx, but GIRDLES? I.can’t.even.
The Mother of All Mom-Son Conversations
I believe that if there was a contest for Mother-Son conversations, and I entered the exchange that Tommy and I had two weeks ago, I’d hands down win for the “Most Awkward” category, and quite possibly the whole shebang. It started innocently enough, we were sitting on the couch, on a Saturday night, watching one of his Nickelodeon shows.
“Mom, I don’t get it. You’re older than Amanda, but her kids are older than me.”
“Grown-ups can have kids at different ages. I was older than Amanda when I had you. She was younger than me when she had her kids.”
He pauses and said, “How old can people be?” Uh-oh, Now Entering Reproduction Territory. Bwoop! Bwoop!
“Women usually stop having babies between 45 and 50. Men can become dads until they die.” Please, don’t ask more questions, please don’t ask more questions.
“Oh…so how do you make a baby, anyway?”
Damn. Damn, damn, damn. Before I uttered the words, “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” I decided to borrow the Facebook advice that a friend of mine posted, and tell Tommy the truth, in the fewest details necessary. It worked for her son–he was grossed out and didn’t ask any more questions. It should work for Tommy, right?
I’m pretty sure all these words came out in the same breath, “You know that a man has a penis and a woman has a vagina. The man puts his penis inside the woman’s vagina and then something called sperm comes out of the penis and then a woman has an egg inside her–not the eggs we get in grocery stores, but a different kind of egg–and if the sperm gets to the egg then the egg will attach itself to something called the uterus inside the woman and that’s where it will grow for nine months and then the baby is born.”
Please say, “EW,” and let it be done. Please say, “EW,” and let it be done.
“Oh. Wait a minute…” (I’ve learned to dread that phrase, Wait a Minute. It means Mr. Smarty-Pants is putting two and two together, and I can’t hide from the truth.) “Wait a minute, does that mean…my dad…(please don’t finish this sentence, please DON’T)..put his penis…(PLEASE!)…inside your vagina?”
Now. Now I understand why parents say, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” Or why The Stork story originated. Now I know. But there’s no turning back now. Once your son has uttered the words “my dad put his penis inside your vagina,” there’s nowhere to go but up.
“Yes, Tommy, that’s how we made you.”
“Okay.” I exhaled a long breath, believing our Facts of Life conversation was over.
“Wait a minute, Mom. Wait a minute…did it hurt?”
Did it hurt? DID IT HURT? There aren’t enough can’t evens in the world for me to can’t even. In that moment, I am certain I thought of a thousand responses. From the sarcastic, It doesn’t hurt if you do it right, to the morose, The emotional pain came later, to the honest, Nah, I had a few beers so I was feeling good. But for my son’s question, a valid one-word response was all that was necessary.
“No. No, it didn’t hurt.”
Then I had to go on the offense, “You should never talk about these things with your friends or at school. NEVER.” Tommy shook his head emphatically and agreed. Dear God, if that conversation was awkward, I can’t imagine what Tommy’s teacher would have to say if he decided that The Facts of Life should be a recess discussion topic. Lord, I don’t need that phone call from Tommy’s school.
Despite the topic, when an opportunity presents itself, I’m committed to seizing it. “We’ll talk about it when you’re older,” isn’t in my arsenal. If he’s asking about it, or commenting, he’s thinking about it. He’s forming his opinions and perspective. It’s my obligation, no matter what, to help him form them with honesty, and empathy, and truth.
Even if it hurts.