Betty Duffy

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Am Ruining My Children.

I don’t know if it’s an act of love or of cruelty that I tend to celebrate the bizarre and socially unacceptable things my children do over their attempts at conformity.

Point: My daughter ate the birdfeeder that my son made at boy-scouts. It was a bagel covered with peanut butter sprinkled with birdseed that hangs on a piece of twine from a tree outside our front door. In the middle of Mass this morning she whispers in my ear, “How do I get birdseed out of my tummy?” I deduce and she confirms that she’s eaten the birdfeeder and assure her that the birdseed will come out the same way it comes out of the birds, but I think this is hilarious. Who wouldn’t want to eat the birdfeeder? Who wouldn’t want to eat it hanging from a string from a tree? Why not hang all of our dinners from the tree and see who can finish eating first without using their hands? Fun.

Counter-point: At that same boy-scout meeting where the boys made bird-feeders, they were asked to go around a circle and say something they were thankful for. Like ninety-five percent of the other boys in the circle, my guys said they were thankful for their Nintendo wii. This upset me for several reasons:
1.) We do not have a Nintendo wii so they were lying (at a boy-scout meeting, no less).
2.) We have told our kids that video games make people stupid by preventing them from reading books, going outside and making leaf forts, pretending to be dinosaurs, etc.
3.) Since our kids, knowing both of these things, still said they were thankful for their Nintendo wii, this means they will pretend to be stupid, and they will tell lies in order to fit in.
4.) What a dumb thing to be thankful for anyway. You’re supposed to be thankful for peace and prosperity, for Mommy and Daddy (who are ruining you and making you unfit for the world).
5.) When does it sink in that it’s cool to be the only boy in boy-scouts who DOESN’T have a Nintendo?

Needless to say, I booed my sons’ false gratitude after the boy-scout meeting.

So moral implications of lying to fit in aside, is my celebration of the alien-ship of my kids another selfish attempt to make my children little mirrors of myself? Is it fair for me to want my kids to feel as uncomfortable in the world as I have always felt? Am I just trying to create my own little community of aliens who will never leave the nest because they feel so different from everyone else?

I tell myself that I celebrate their strangeness because I want them to feel comfortable in their skin, to know that they’re NOT strange, but rather interesting and fun and smart people with good values and neat ideas. But how are they going to believe me about this if they don’t have friends? And, yes, they are a little young still, but they DON’T have friends. Other kids have play-dates and sleep-overs on the weekends. My kids don’t. And I’m not anxious for them to start having play-dates and sleep-overs, in fact, the idea makes me nervous (truth be told, if asked for a sleep-over, I’d probably say no). But they are aware of it, and I feel for them.

Reality is, they’ve probably told all the other boys in school that they’re stupid because they play video games.


Kaighla said...

You inspire me. My son is only 4 months old, but people already tell me they are scared for him socially because of how awkward I am socially, "fringe" person if you will. I mean, I love people, but I have been told more than once that I am socially unacceptable. ha ha ha...anyway...I want to raise my son with unique values like...oh, I dunno...having fun outside with dirt and rocks and climbing trees, maybe? Not needing more stupid toys to be happy? Learning that more stuff definitely does not equal more happiness, and rather clutters one's life and leaves simplicity and childlike faith by the wayside? My friends say he will be a social outcast (or worse, deemed a Jehovah's Witness) because I plan to tell him the truth about Christmas (and how the magi giving the savior gifts is no reason to kill other mommies to get the first "tickle me elmos"). They said I am setting him up for social failure because I intend to teach him about the world and other cultures and am already teaching him different languages. Heck...I got a real lashing for giving him an African name, and his father is Nigerian!

Anyway...all this is to say that as a fellow "alien", in one sense, I can relate. :-)

Elizabeth said...

Seriously, betty. don´t you realize your family belongs in mexico? catholicism, beauty, lots of international weirdos that don´t let there kids have a wii, either. my kids don´t even know what it is, they think it´s a line from a song by M.I.A. my ribs ache from your recounting of a day in the life of betty and her alien children. i can´t stop laughing about dinner hanging from the tree. it´s brilliant!

Jus said...

you children are not aliens. Well, maybe they are but my four little side-show lovelies would get on with them perfectly. I guess this sounds par for the course for me.....In our case homeschooling works well because they are free to be strange without fully realizing it is the case.

That being said I think your children DO have friends - EACHOTHER. That is the beauty of a large family. I look at Bella, Ava, Basil and Clementine and I see that they enjoy one another far more than they enjoy anyone else. At first this worried me but with time I have realized how fantastic this is. Friends will come and go but they will always have one another and there is NOTHING wrong with that.

Trish Bailey said...

Elizabeth! You are hilarious! Virginia Wills told me about your blogspot and I just checked it out today... I think I'll be reading you more often now. :o)

Shawna said...

oh my gosh. they are so cute. i'm sure you're doing it all right lol. you've never struck me as anything but wonderful!

Kate said...

You really need to read Family Evaluation. Maybe I'll loan you my copy at Christmas, but you have to give it back. I'll ransom your Beauty Myth and that What Jane Austen Ate book for it (yes, I've still got those.)

Anyway, a point they make is that trying too hard to make something a non-issue often makes it an issue. I.e. if you're always trying to make things fair because as a child, you felt the injustices of living in a large family, then instead of growing up thinking, "large families are fair," they'll grow up thinking someone needs to make everything even for them. By trying too hard to avoid an issue, you make it of heightened awareness/importance to them. So you may be shooting yourself in the foot by putting so much thought into how individual they are or aren't - you could end up with little freakos or little followers, and I don't think you or they would be happy with either! You can affirm their independence without celebrating it so much, and I think it's only harmful to indoctrinate them with broad generalizations like "people who play video games are stupid." If there's truth in that, they can come to it on their own, without it being supplied to them along with the lesson that they should pigeonhole everyone else in an attempt to stay out of any niches themselves.

Sorry - just had to play devil's advocate to all the pro-uber-individuality comments. :)

Betty Duffy said...

Kaighla, it sounds like you're doing an excellent job with your son, the languages especially are going to prove the nay-sayers wrong. While the other kids are plugged into their I-pods, he will be communicating with the world. YOU inspire me!

Biz, I LOVE WEIRD MEXICAN CATHOLICS!@!!! I really do. I've met more than a few and by far, they are some of my favorite people in this world.

Jus, good point about the kids having each other...they really do depend on each other, the way I still love and depend on my adult siblings. I've seen good families grow apart as they grow up, and I hope that doesn't happen to them.

Hi Trish! Welcome!

Shawna, thanks for the encouragement.

Devil's Advocate, you're absolutely right that we should not indoctrinate them with the idea that other people are stupid if they play video games--in fact, I blame my husband for using that word with them, and it obviously didn't work, as they have met people who play video games, and they have discovered for themselves that they are not stupid, and that they themselves would still like to BE people who play video games. But I'll put that off as long as I can regardless. As far as "celebrating" their oddness goes, I should be more clear: it's a quiet celebration. It's more a personal preference that I have, and I don't really encourage their odd behavior--I'm just entertained by it when it happens. If I DO anything encourage oddness in them, it is only by limiting or prohibiting things like TV time, video games, certain toys, and some social things (and I take their picture whenever I see them doing something odd). I'm sure they'll find something to rebel against in my prohibitions, but I don't think removing those prohibitions will stave off a rebellion. Lawless kids rebel against their lawlessness--which may be your point. I'll read the book, though, if it makes you feel better about not returning MY books.

Rachel said...

One one my favorite things to do is to laugh at something that your kids are getting in trouble for...while they are getting in trouble for it. I'm a horrible influence but thoroughly enjoy being a contributor to the freakishness of you children. ha ha!

JenX67 said...

You inspired me, too. A family is a special, profoundly powerful unit when done correctly.

We don't have video games either. We just had cable reconnected a few months ago. I'd make my kids even weirder if I could get away with it. Maybe I've missed it somewhere - but - do you homeschool? I Know your kids are young. My daughter attends a Catholic school - always has - but we're thinking of homeschooling. WE miss the convent school where she spent six years. WE're at a Parish school now. THe girls are disappointing.

Betty Duffy said...

Jen, I do not currently home school but it's something we regularly consider. Our kids also go to a Parish school, but being that they're just in first and second grade (the two that are in school) I have little to complain about other than the tuition.

A home schooler I admire in this group of commenters is Jus who has a beautiful photo blog at Docendo Dominis.

My sister also home schools her six kids, and she occasionally blogs at The Husteds under the title "Emily."