My friend, Steve, and I have been having lunch together every week for over a decade. I’ve learned a lot from Steve. There aren’t many people who know so much about so many things. Born in rural Alabama, Steve grew up learning how things work and how to make-do with whatever was available. As a teenager he left home to spend a few years in the Air Force, then he went to college, got a degree, and became a software engineer. Now he writes software for a computer lab. If you need to know anything about anything, from bridle bits to computer bytes, Steve’s your man.
Our years of having lunch together have paralleled the formative years for each of our families. Steve also has three kids, two girls and a boy, and we’ve had fun over the years swapping stories about them. No one tells a better story than Steve. To hear him you’d think that the “cloud of doom” relentlessly hovers over his family, but that’s just his way of making the stories more dramatic. At least I think so. It’s hard to ignore the fact that his kids have provided him with some pretty good material over the years.
One of my all time favorites deals with the discovery that one of their children had apparently been eating diaper wipes. Whole. The child was still in diapers at the time, and all the necessary accoutrements were readily available in her room, but Steve and his wife had no reason to suspect anything was amiss. There were no upset tummies or telltale signs of any kind.
Until they were changing her diaper one day.
As they were cleaning her up, something odd appeared. It was white. They were more than a little concerned. As they tried to clean whatever it was away, it finally dawned on them what they were dealing with. So they pulled, and out popped a complete diaper wipe. There’s no denying that stuff happens to Steve that I’ve never heard of happening to anyone else.
One of the many things about which Steve and I agree is that we need to prepare our kids to face an unforgiving world. Steve illustrates this with his assertion that there are just two kinds of people in the world: predators and prey. Predators take command of the situation and respond with strength. Prey let the world happen to them.
I’m not sure it was really clear to either of us how we were going to make sure our kids ended up on the predator side of the equation, but I suspect that desire worked its way into many aspects of our parenting. For us it meant providing our boys with a lot of room to make their own choices as early as possible. We made the decision not to hover over them or protect them from the world, and instead encouraged them to be prepared to make whatever choices each situation demanded. We felt that the more practice they got while they were still within our reach, the better the chances were that they’d stand strong when they were on their own.
You never know when those opportunities might arise.
I got a call from Karen one day telling me that our oldest son, Gerrit, was being suspended from school for swearing. Gerrit was in Middle School, and as I pondered how I was going to respond to this new development, I had to admit that my own adolescence involved a good bit of experimentation in such things. The early teen years are often a time of trying on different character traits, like hats, to see how well they fit. Most of these excursions are temporary. Still, this one really didn’t sound like something Gerrit would do, at least not to the point of getting suspended for it. He was too smart for that. There had to be more to the story.
It turns out there was.
During gym class that day Gerrit had been playing dodge ball. At one point in the game, a member of his team was trying to get to a ball when a member of the opposite team caught him and pinned him to the ground. The pinner was known to be kind of a bully, and despite increasingly frantic requests from the kid he had pinned, the bully wouldn’t let him up. There wasn’t a teacher nearby, so Gerrit was faced with a choice. School policy was very clear on the penalties for physical confrontation, but there was a wrong that needed to be righted. So Gerrit stepped up and drew on the power of words.
“Why don’t you let him up, you big @#$%^&*!”
Like most bullies, this one wasn’t all that tough after all. He did let the other kid up, and then he ran immediately to the gym teacher to tell on Gerrit. Apparently the supposed predator was just prey after all. The teacher came over and asked Gerrit if it was true that he had said those words. Gerrit stood tall and admitted it.
I picked Gerrit up from school that afternoon. Normally his mom picked him up, so he knew something was up. When I pulled off into a small parking lot halfway home, he knew that this was no mere coincidence.
We had a man-to-man chat that day.
I was proud of my boy for stepping up and taking action. We discussed what had happened and what his other choices might have been. In the end I had to agree that he had chosen well in a situation that didn’t present a lot of good options. Still, that choice was going to cost him.
Gerrit was known as a good kid. That fact, combined with his ready admission of guilt led to a reduction in his sentence at school to one day of “in house” detention. There were corresponding consequences from us as well, but facing all of that was the easy part. It would be over quickly.
The tough part was going to be restoring his reputation.
It would take a lot of work to counter the news that the good kid had cussed out someone in gym class. There wasn’t going to be anything quick about it. Most likely the details of why it happened would be lost as the story traveled through the rumor mill and only the ugly part would be remembered. Repairing that damage was going to take someone who was willing to see it through, no matter how unfair or difficult it seemed. It was going to take someone who would respond with strength and action.
There are two kinds of people in the world.
My son showed which kind he was.
originally published 11/28/11| next post Slippery Slopes