Boys Are People Too

English: , American author
Rosalind Wiseman, courtesy of Wikipedia

I have blogged about my son driving me insane with his Xbox habit.

At Trinity School last night I got some insights into my son and his boy culture. Rosalind Wiseman spoke about the social pressures and dynamics of being a young man in today’s hyper connected world, based on research from her new book, Masterminds & Wingmen.

Here were some of my take aways:

We say to girls, “‘You can do it. You can do anything.’ And girls have a vibrant support system.” Wiseman is not knocking this important empowerment base for girls — after all, she’s also the author of Queen Bees & Wannabes so she knows girls. But Wiseman says, ‘If you are a 13-year old boy, you don’t see that you have power.” Because, at 13, a boy is still a boy and a girl is a young woman.

Wiseman likened the emotional life of 11th grade boys to 8th grade girls. This cracked me up. This is who I’ve got at home!

For her book, Wiseman interviewed 200 boys and 40 girls. She came away with some surprises.

One gem? “Straight theater boys get more hookups than football players.” (All right! Let’s hear it for the theater boys.)

More gems:

Happiness is …

  •  Meaning beyond one’s self
  • Hope of success
  • Social connection
  • Satisfying work

I love archetypes. And Wiseman, with the boys she interviewed, came up with some types:
The Mastermind
The Associate
The Bouncer
The Fly
The Entertainer
The Punching Bag
A Conscience

But these boys don’t mind being stereotyped. Remember that rule for happiness? They are happy to have social connections.

I loved Wiseman’s advice to a boy when he criticizes another boy’s sensitivity, “You cannot deny someone’s emotional truth.” So true!

She also says, “There is a difference between snitching and reporting.”

And this! “It is a social skill to get help.” One mom I chatted with after Wiseman’s presentation said she she was going to put this quote on sticky notes all over the house.

When a boy comes to a parent with bad news, here’s what to say, “1. I’m sorry this happened. 2. It’s hard to come forward. I respect that you did. 3, Now let’s think about what we can do about this.”

And when there’s conflict, expect push back.

When you get a “Bad news bomb,” Wiseman says a parent can realize:

  • This is one moment, not a lifetime.
  • Don’t make excuses.
  • Ask for what you need.
  • If it gets heated, you might say, “Let’s talk in 10 minutes. I can’t hear you over the sound of my heart beating so loud in my ears.”

I am going to try and talk about the tough stuff with my son. Wiseman advises, ‘Talk to your son about falling in love and breaking up. Don’t expect the generic advice to ‘respect a girl’ to be useful, especially at a party. What does respect mean?’

Boys, like girls, feel used and confused over relationships. Some boys asked Wiseman how to deal with aggressive drunk girls.

Wiseman began her lecture with a scenario of how one boy felt shamed by other boys’ comments around his body. Yes, body image is important to boys.

This lecture helped me realize my son’s “emotional life is deep and rich.”

Even though my boy always seems to have some tech thing in his hand, he still needs his hand held!

And I’m going to hold his hand — and yes, embarrass the hell out of him while doing so.

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Rosalind Wiseman talks about boy culture.

Reflections on Race after the Verdict

Here are a few random thoughts on race.

**

I believe more people should learn conflict mediation skills and fewer people should carry guns.

I was thinking about the Girls Leadership Institute (GLI) workshop that my daughters and I attended last year. A key factor in resolving conflict is TALKING, not fighting, not fearing each other.

After being shot by the Taliban, on 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the United Nations. (photo courtesy of Charter for Compassion)
After being shot by the Taliban, on 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the United Nations. (photo courtesy of Charter for Compassion)

The talking solution may sound girlie, sissy, touchy-feely. But in fact, if more people talked about their feelings and fears, there would be less trigger-happy people and disputes.

Look at what a girl can do when you look at Malala Yousafzai who had been shot by the Taliban for speaking up. She celebrated her 16th birthday by speaking to the United Nations in favor of educating girls.

Personal gripe: Last year, when I worked for the faith-based women’s group, I wrote a curriculum on using conflict resolution skills in small group settings for a young women’s training. Despite being riddled with conflict, even the women’s group saw conflict mediation as a low priority.

**

If my 16-year old son were walking the streets of Florida, no one would feel alarmed. This case was definitely about race. The Paula Deen incident shows people talk about race in private, but not in public.

We say nothing. We are afraid. We don’t want to offend. We avoid conflict. But talking (writing) is the best solution. And we may need to employ conflict mediation skills to let one another talk without judging. Use “I” statements and all.  We need to learn to talk about tough stuff. I do, any way.

**

What the hell, Florida?

My father belonged to a neighborhood watch group in Florida.

Last year, I asked him if he saw anything worrisome. He said once he saw a group of Hispanic men hanging out near a park at night. He called it in. The cop said leave them be. My father said the group claimed to be a soccer league, but my dad did not see any soccer ball.

He never saw the group again.

**

Once I was at a cocktail party in the Adirondacks and I met the writer Nell Irvin Painter. She wrote the book, “History of White People.” She was about to go on the Daily Show to talk about her book. She was studying art. We sat on a comfy couch and talked about Princeton, art, writing, and race. Her book sounded brilliant.

Nell Irvin Painter
Nell Irvin Painter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We shared some laughs. I wanted to read her book about white-ness and the construct of race. I have not read it yet.

**

I was at another cocktail party in the Adirondacks. (Apparently that’s the only place where I go to cocktail parties. (Though once I went to cocktail party at Gay and Nan Talese’s house. That’s another story. (Charlie Rose was there.))

Back to this friend in the Adirondacks — she said that the U.S. should’ve never fought the Civil War. This idea was anathema to me. She said, ‘We should have annexed the south because southerners were and are such a drain on the country. The north would accept all people as free people. The south, because of its bigotry, would implode. All would be welcome in the north. We would thrive.”

Again, it was provocative cocktail party talk.

**

I want to take my kids to see Gettysburg.

Once I went to Gettysburg with college chum Jeff Carey (T. Jefferson Carey). I was splitting up from my first marriage. He was going through some shit.

We took this crazy road trip in his really crappy car. We totally made all these connections about how the Civil War was a metaphor — for my marriage and for our families, for our divisiveness within ourselves, and for our country, even today.

I kind of remember him burying something on our road trip  — some kind of talisman — under a tree. Or maybe he dug something up. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago.

I do remember that Jeff and I bought this tape. We played the dramatic tape in his tapedeck as we drove around listening to the story of the bloody war at Gettysburg. I remember crying over that tape’s dramatic narration of Gettysburg — where brother fought brother.

I want my kids to hear and learn about Gettysburg. I want, as a country, for us not to forget the Civil War. I want us not to forget Trayvon Martin. I want us to listen to people like Malala Yousafzai and Nell Irvin Painter.

I want fewer people to have guns. I want to read books and talk about race. I want people to learn how to mediate conflict and talk about race and gender, like we learned to through the GLI.

After all, this is the least we can do to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

P.S. I want to go to more cocktail parties.

Peter and the Starcatcher

When our daughters were little, they always wanted to hear a bedNIGHT story. Of course, they meant a bedTIME story but I dared not correct them. It was one of their charming childhood malapropisms. Chris and I would tell them stories until they entered the magic of their dreams.

(courtesy of Peter and the Starcatcher)
(courtesy of Peter and the Starcatcher)

And if you are like them — and like me and Chris — sometimes still, you want and need a good new bednight story, and so I suggest, little one, that you take yourself to see Peter and the Starcatcher. (Though for some reason I keep calling it Peter and the Dreamcatcher! A penchant for malapropisms may be genetic!)

Whatever you call it — Oh. So. Good.

I was bummed when it closed on Broadway. More than a few of my friends told me that I’d like it. But it’s not always easy for me to get to see everything I want in New York City. Though God knows, I try.

Once in a while, I get a reprieve. While it closed on Broadway in January, it reopened a few blocks away in at New World Stages with much of the same cast and in the same amazing production.

Score.

I don’t know how to summarize the show’s many themes — It is about how to grow up; how children are wiser than adults; how believing in one another is never wrong; how music and comedy make magic; how letting go is part of what you do when you love.

Children can fly (one of my darlings at the swimming hole in the Adirondacks).
Children can fly (one of my darlings at the swimming hole in the Adirondacks).

My favorite recurring theme was taught by the girl Molly. Here is her secret to good leadership: a leader looks out for her tribe. Molly taught this to the boy who became Peter. Molly, played by Nicole Lowrance, is the only girl in the show. She’s so good.

Molly has to be sister, friend, love interest, and, of course, mother to the orphan boys.

But she is not the kind of mother or leader who scolds needlessly, (although she does scold).

She is the kind of mother who finds magic in stories. She’s the kind of mother who soothes scared nerves by suggesting a running race. Molly’s a playful leader.

She knows that to save the day, a leader must:

  • be creative
  • be open-minded
  • be brave
  • be empathetic
  • be funny.

I found a new heroine and her name is Molly! Molly is the starcatcher.

The musical shows how theater is a collaborative art. And there are many times when the antics reminded me of the joy of improv comedy, but the show only looks seat-of-the-pants hilarious. The action is all orchestrated. (Brilliant brilliant directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers! And my old chum Wayne Barker — brilliant, brilliant — did the music! Funny. Funny!)

It’s a physical show where the leads play doors and walls and mermen.

The words are witty and the physical shenanigans are hilarious. At one point I was laughing so hard I was crying. And then at another point, I noticed that Chris was weeping.

I think his tears came from the place of nostalgia for we miss the nights when our darlings were still little enough to climb on our laps and beg for one more bednight story.

Ah well. We can always take them to see this show. And even if you’re not in NYC, you can see it too, as it’s touring this year, starting in August 2013.

The show is at New World Stages, 340 West 50th.

Order tickets at: PeterandtheStarcatcher.com

Related Stories

Girls can be pirates too. Empowering girls.

Sandy’s post about taking her 7-year old son to Peter and the Starcatcher

Diane’s post and a backstage tour!

Thanks to CultureMomMedia.com for the tickets. All thoughts (and memories of bednight stories) are my own. 

1MM4GC

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Notice that behind the brilliant activist, blogger, and actress (and our friend) Christine Siracusa is musician Dan Zanes, one of my kids’ faves. Christine hosted and Zanes entertained at the million moms’ rally.

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Moms are awesome!
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Moms were using technology to get the word out. We will protect our kids.
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We believe in keeping our kids safe.
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Such cute kids joining in the rally with a million moms for gun control.

Sure it was was cold, but there was no shortage of body heat and adorable kids wearing adorable hats.

Today to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day, I joined hundreds (thousands?) of moms at City Hall Park to support the policies to keep our kids safe from gun violence.
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at least one million moms for gun control.
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Tweet it, sistah! #1mm4gc

Read the words of founder Shannon Watts.

learn more and join the movement at One million moms for gun control.

from the culture mom

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One Hour Without Technology

It went badly.

I told all family members that for one hour on this Sunday afternoon they had to turn off their phones, computers, television sets at 3:15 pm. They could do anything they wanted — nap, eat, clean, anything.

At 3:15, they begged for, “Five more minutes. Just until I finish this episode.”

Hayden’s hooked on reruns of Prison Break and the girls on How I Met Your Mother. So I relented. At 3:20, I collected their phones and laptops and put them in a sealed, secret box.

My husband (who may have some OCD tendencies) began counting playing cards to get a Gin Rummy game going. The girls began to clean their room. So far, so good. Then my son began foraging in the fridge for something to eat and came up short. It’s true we’ve been gone a few days and the cupboards are pretty bare.

“You can go grocery shopping,” I suggested.

“No,” he said, flopping on my bed. “I’m hungry.” I began making him some frozen Trader Joe appetizer thing, left-overs from a party months ago.

“Mom, I have to turn on the computer to check what homework I have,” my son said.

“No,” I said.

“I think he should be allowed to do that,” my husband piped in.

“No,” I was not going to give in. “He knows he has to read the Odyssey. Just crack the book open.”

at the airport yesterday, my kids were all plugged in.

“I already read it,” he said.

“Then do something else,” I said.

“You’re such a jerk,” he said. Nice, right?

“You’re not allowed to call me a jerk. Or say I’m crazy,” I said. Last week, he called me crazy. Yes, I’m crazy. But a good kind of crazy. And that’s not what he meant.

Then the girls started bickering about a shirt they both claimed. And Charlotte was goading Catherine to quit lying on the floor.

Charlotte was exasperated. She said, “I’m the only one who does anything around here.”

And that naturally, got me yelling. Because that’s my line. I’m the only one who does anything around here.

My husband asked, “Who wants to play cards?”

“Not me!” the kids said.

“Get up off the floor,” Charlotte told Catherine.

“I’m hungry, Mom,” Hayden said.

I tried to keep it together by remembering the article on sibling rivalry from today’s NYTimes by George Howe Colt. He points out that when kids argue over food maybe what they’re really arguing over is mother’s attention.

That idea that mothers are powerful got me through the awful hour without technology. The other realization that pulled me through was knowing our social media sabbath was only going to last another 15 minutes. I served the kids that appetizer-y thing. People calmed down.

At 4:20, I went into the secret box and handed them back their phones and laptops. Okay, I didn’t hand them back. I threw them back. I said, “Here you go! Now we don’t have to talk to each other any more today.”

But we did talk later — at dinner. I suggested that we try this brief digital sabbath every week. They didn’t argue.

 

Upcoming Goals

Earlier in the season, before the storm, the days were brighter and warmer, and the girls played soccer in Central Park. Look how much fun these soccer moms are having!

Just back from my girls’ freezing soccer game. Thank God basketball season is upon us because soccer season is tough on the spectators. I posted on Facebook, ‘this soccer mom needs a hot toddy.’

The term, ‘soccer mom,’ is used disparagingly, but I appreciate the soccer moms and dads who coach teams and bring snacks and stand there in the cold, cheering and chatting, without warm beverages.

I appreciate myself. I put air in the girls’ tires so we could ride bikes to the game. But I was overambitious. It was too cold. We were miserable, riding into the cold wind off of the Hudson River.

The girls would’ve rather taken a bus, a subway, a taxi, anything. Getting places in New York can be cushy or tough. Sometimes I make us tough it out. Perhaps needlessly. Sometimes I feel like I am an Outward Bound leader rather than a parent.

I want to be grateful that my kids are so athletic and like playing team sports.

I have so many good things on my horizon. I want to focus on positive things and my upcoming goals. I do not want to dwell on the argument the girls and I had when it was time to ride home from the game and the girls wanted to switch bikes.

Here’s are some good things ahead:

  • My trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving
  • Upcoming writing workshops
  • Christmas in the Adirondacks
  • Basketball season
  • Ice skating in Central Park
  • Wonderful things I can’t even imagine right now.

I believe in pronoia, which is the sneaking suspicion that the universe is conspiring to help you. (Unlike paranoia, where the world is conspiring to get you.)

That’s my upcoming goal until New Year’s — to have faith in the power of pronoia.

Fall Schedule

I plan my life and then my plans change. Still, I love starting a new season.

As a  kid I remember getting excited about the new fall season on TV. I loved that there were new possibilities — just for me and my entertainment. I couldn’t wait for the spin offs of my favorite sitcoms, like The Jefferson’s, Lou Grant, that Rhoda show. I loved James at 16 and the Walton’s too. Such good shows!

While my kids’ first day of school is still a few weeks away and my last day of work is a month away, I feel  a similar excitement.

I temper my enthusiasm — reminding myself that there will be a lot of laundry. When I get my darlings home from camp, I’ll have to check their hair for lice. Yes, nice! (But even that, includes holding them tight, so I won’t mind!)

As an adult, life is a lot of work before you can just plop down in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn. There are so many things to do and to plan.

Tomorrow night I teach my first East Coast Querying Workshop. I have a ton of ideas, about six people signed up, and a sketch of how the 3-hour class will unfold.

But I want to remember that the best laughs, the most memorable moments, are usually the unscripted ones. On TV, I never knew what George, John-Boy, or Rhoda would do. I just knew they would do something to make me laugh, think, or cry. I trusted them.

I am trusting that my fall line up this year will be similarly exciting.

Stay tuned. Don’t change the dial. (Remember when TV’s had dials?)

Leaving the Job

In about a month, I’m going to be divorced from my job. In many ways the marriage has been fruitful. We’ve had wonderful children (projects) together; we’ve gone many places; we’ve grown; we’ve pushed each other to grow; and now we’re moving on. We are going our separate ways. We have other loves and other children and other journeys to take. Still, it’s weird. I have mixed emotions.

I find myself moody and at times sad and in need of attention. My friend Rachael said, “That’s good. As it should be.” I remember as a kid going to summer camp or to college and missing my crazy family like crazy. (Work has been like a family to me.) But I assured myself, “It’s okay. It’ be horrible if I was just happy to be rid of them. Just to be free.”

There is a longing for freedom — a desire to speak my truth and not care if my truth jibes with the dogma of the faith-based group. I want to scream from the mountaintops, “I love Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs! I love all religions — no one has a corner on truth. No one of you is more perfect than the rest!” And if I blog about how I love gay marriage I don’t want to fear some stuffy church exec pulling me aside, “You represent the agency so please keep your public opinions to yourself.” (Yes, that kind of thing, on occasion, happens!)

I’ll miss the family dramas. I’ll miss the comedy. I won’t miss the meetings.

I’ll miss my identity as a writer. I always felt I had the best job at the place. There are many writers who want to write full time. And for most of my 20 years with the agency (10, part time and 10, full time) I’ve done it. But writing for work is different than writing for your own passion. And because I’ve given at the office, I don’t always feel like giving out at home.

I gave the best years of my life to that workplace. (I get dramatic. Maybe the best is yet to come?) The agency made me better and I made the agency better.

Still, I feel untethered, unmoored. What am I doing? I need the apron strings of a day job to get by in NYC, especially since I have three kids heading to college within the next six years.

I assure myself I am not alone. I am one of 38 of the 201 full time staff of my agency who accepted this voluntary severance package. That’s about 20 percent of us, who are cut loose and footloose.

I’m starting my own business coaching writers. (Check out my new biz.) I’m freelancing writing and teaching in a couple of afterschool programs. Oh, and I’m going to every single one of my kids’ meets and games in track, swim, basketball, soccer, and gymanstics. I’m going to volunteer with the PTA, go on field trips, and help backstage at the shows.

Here’s the view from the top of my office building.

I’m not going far. I’ll still hang out with my old work friends for lunch, happy hour, maybe even to walk the 19 flights up to the roof, hit up the art opening, visit the ecumenical library, or take my old Pilates class. It is, it turns out, all of these peripheral things that I’ll miss, that I’ve added on to my work life, that have made my life meaningful. It is what I’ve brought with me. And these things, it turns out, I can take away.

I may be getting a divorce from work, but it is an amicable one. We still love each other very much and want only the best for one another.

Why?

One of my daughters asked, “Why did he have to take her?”

The kids’ Sunday School teacher, Joyce Mwanalushi Landu, died suddenly while visiting her family in Zambia a couple of weeks ago. We learned the news last week. And it hit us very hard. I think Joyce was probably near 50 and the cause of death was heart-related.

Joyce was a beautiful, creative, spiritual person.

In a tribute at church yesterday, Laura talked about how Joyce never raised her voice or was physically affectionate or demonstrative, yet the kids were drawn to her and knew they had her respect. And she had theirs.

I believe Joyce truly loved my kids. Losing someone who loves you and whom you love is always crazy. It calls to mind all those people you’ve loved and who’ve died. A death makes you wonder about your own death and what kind of legacy you will leave. I would like to be remembered as someone who loved unconditionally, as Joyce did.

Australian hospice nurse Bronnie Ware, in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, said that a top common regret from every dying man she tended was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” I know I work very hard, sometimes too hard. But then, I play hard too. (This book was quoted in that Atlantic article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All)

I understand nothing of God’s plan. Why did Chris have to get Parkinson’s? I am tongue-tied when my kids ask “Why?”

the kids at Rutgers Church during prayer time

All I know is that I have to love the people I’m traveling through life with. I have to make art and love my peeps.

I have to remember:

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that — but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself.  –Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet (1903)

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Camping on Fire Island

Why can’t life be more like camping?

I took the darlings camping to Fire Island this weekend. We got there via subway, commuter rail, a ferry ride and a long walk.

We left NYC on a crowded, rush-hour Long Island

finding shade

Railroad. Four hours later, we were sitting around a picnic table near our tents, listening to singing birds in a bush and roasting S’mores.

As I pushed our canvas cart through Penn Station, (Deliver me not into Penn Station!) balancing backpack and toppling cooler , one of my darlings said, “You look like a homeless woman.” Knowing Lorenza Andrade Smith who is beautiful, kind and homeless, I took this remark to be a badge of honor.

In my own defense, we used or ate every single thing we brought. Admittedly, the journey to the campsite was not as much fun as the experience at the campsite.

Once there, the best parts were:

  • the empty early morning beach
  • watching my son go for a run on the beach
  • diving into the frigid Atlantic on a steamy day. And once in the wave, having that momentary panic of not knowing which way was up!
  • a cold shower in the communal bathhouse
  • seeing the antlers of a deer emerge under the boardwalk
  • in the shine of our flashlight, catching a glimpse of a fox running from our site
  • on the middle-of-the-night bathroom run, meeting a father and son with lanterns who followed a toad wherever it led
The worst parts were:
  • mosquitoes
  • mosquitoes
  • mosquitoes
My take-aways:
  • Nature is incredible
  • Find shade
  • You don’t need your iPhone to be happy (the kids left their phones at home!)
  • My kids are awesome
  • We need each other
  • We can lean on each other

The whole camping experience had an Outward-Bound bonding experience for the four of us. We were resourceful. Of course, the kids bickered, which usually drives me crazy, but they also engaged in long conversations and activities, such as counting one another’s mosquito bites, which I think, numbered 72. Seriously. (And we were using strong insect repellent!)

As usal, we couldn’t have done it without our friends.

  • The aforementioned Lorenza Andrade Smith who inspired us to camp
  • Our church’s Boy Scout troop and the Scout Mistress Louisa Anderson who lent us the three tents
  • Joanna Parson who encouraged us and was going to join us but instead got theater work and gave us her campsite (So we had bedrooms and a dining room/kitchen)

Maybe life is like camping — a lot of work, a lot of fun, and too much sun.

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