Speak no Evil, unless it’s not.

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Okay.  I’m writing this with delicate fingers, hoping not to type over anyone’s toes.  Well, I’m probably going to anyway, but remember, in my heart, I’m never out to offend ANYONE…  so here we go.  Man, I’m all nervous now.

Aidan has been a handful since Jason left.  To be honest, it’s more like an armful, mouthful, handful and THEN some.  He’s been pulling uncharacteristic stunts, acting out, and generally being, well, a jerk. Hey, I’m his mom, I get to say that.  Just no one else does.  So, despite reminding him that his behavior is anything but acceptable, and grounding him, and taking away the wii, and making him work off his shenanigans, (we’re talking wipe down the dining room table, here, not scrub the toilet with a toothbrush or anything), he’s still being…  Aidan.  He’s currently on groundance for the aforementioned ICKY behavior, and a few more rather egregious infractions on his part.  He’s kind of killing me.

So this week, after some off-the-bus snuggles and a walk home, as they’re grabbing their snacks and tossing their backpacks into their Jason-built lockers-cubbies, I ask the standard, “okay, who has homework?”

I’m assured that no one does, but Aidan has this… look about him, and he’s far too eager to rush to his backpack to bring me his completed work.  So I say, “Aidan is there anything in your backpack I need to see?”  And he looks off to the side.  So now, I change to, “Aidan, bring me your backpack NOW.”

What do I find?

A note in Aidan’s handwriting, signed by the principal detailing that he has lunch detention for three days.  Aidan, who has NEVER so much as been to the principal’s office before.  And why?  There it is in my 8 year-old’s handwriting, “I called **** gay because he was pinching nipples.”

Oh, this mommy ROARED.

Things like, “You called him WHAT?” and “Are you out of your mind?”  and “How dare you hurt someone’s feelings like this!” came out of my mouth before I could stop and think.  But when I took a breath, I realized I hadn’t asked him the MOST important question.  “Aidan, why do you think you’re in trouble?”

He answered, “Because I called someone “gay” and it’s a bad word.”

“Aidan, what do you think that word means?”

Giant tears in his eyes, he mutters, “someone who touches another person’s private parts, but he WAS!”

At this point, I’d like to put my head into the wall.

So I tell him, “No, baby.  Gay is a term used for boys who like other boys, the way you like girls.”

He puckers his eyebrows and replies, “Okay, so like a boy who likes another boy but he likes another girl?”

Yeah.  This is how this conversation went.

“No, babe.  It’s a term that means boys who love other boys, and girls who love other girls.”  Once he digested that with a shocked look, I kept going.  “Do you think this is wrong?”

He nodded his head with huge eyes.

I shook my head and hugged him to me.  “No, love, it’s not wrong, it’s just different than what you’re used to.  Just because it’s different doesn’t make it wrong.  You’re in trouble because you used a word that is supposed to define the way someone loves another person, and you made it hurtful and dirty.  We don’t do that.  Why would you think it’s okay to hurt someone like that?”

“Because *Little-boy-who-lives-down-the-street-and-shall-not-be-named* told me what it meant and he said it first.  And he was touching private parts!”

Well, Crap.  So we have the “if your friends are jumping off a bridge,” talk and I send him upstairs to draft an apology note to the student he’d hurt, and then I got mad.

First, he’s not supposed to be anywhere near that boy, the one that kicked my dog (and then promptly got thrown-out of my house), is abusive to other kids and animals, and is just MEAN.  Aidan knows this, yet…  sigh.

Second, it’s my fault he didn’t know what “gay” means.  He doesn’t know any gay people, because my friends who are, don’t live around us.  I’d always wanted to introduce this term naturally.  You know, like when we’re out and he sees two men holding hands, or a girl in his class having two mommies or something. I wanted to look at him and say, “well honey, she has two mommies because those two women love each other and have a family (I’d like to add, “they’re married like mommy and daddy,”), and aren’t they a beautiful family?”  I wanted it to be a moment where it just seemed normal to him, instead of this awful moment where he’s in detention because he followed some other kid’s lead and has the whole wrong idea.  So much for that.

*** And yes, I’m still struggling to write this, because I know whatever I put is going to offend SOMEONE, and that’s never my intention.  ***

Now I’m mad at the school.  Why?  Because they never asked if he knew what it meant, which apparently, he didn’t.  They punished him without teaching him what he’d done wrong, without so much as calling me so I could come down and explain it to him, since they were too uncomfortable to do so.  By being unwilling to address what had really transpired on that playground, they took this word that defines a way to love, and instead teaching them about it, made it dirty and “bad” by refusing to speak of it.  Why can’t we speak of it?  Why did he have to learn first that it was wrong to call someone that as opposed to what it meant?  Mommy Roar.

The next day, after I proofread two drafts of the apology, it read: Dear ***, I’m so sorry I called you gay.  I never would have said that if I knew what it meant.  I’m sorry.  – Aidan.

I then sent it to school with him and a note  that added my own thoughts to the principal.  My phone rang three hours into the school day.  Now, I’m pleasant.  I have to be.  Four of our boys will go through this elementary school, and I’m not about to be labeled the freak-out parent.  But, maybe I freaked out a little bit.

The principal told me that they hand’t really brought up the “gay-thing,” but that he was in lunch detention because they felt it was bullying.  (Mind you, this is his first trip to the principal, EVER).  So I responded that if what they construed to be bullying happened on that playground, he should absolutely be punished both at school and at home.  However, did they normally give 3 days of lunch detention to a kid for calling a name after being hurt on the playground?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  This detention was because they used the word “gay,” even though she wouldn’t address it when punishment was meted out.  I gave her my opinion, that when they’re punishing him for something they refuse to explain, Aidan’s not the only one who’s wrong.

My next comment to her was:  If someone had pinched my nipples (man, I never use that word on the blog, and today it’s ALL over the place!), I probably would have pulled back and hit them.  THAT HURTS!!! In this case, I’m glad my 8 year-old knew better than to return violence with violence.  But what happened to the kid who painfully pinched these boys?  Yeah.  Nothing?  That’s what I thought.

Now, I’m cool with the 3 days detention.  Trust me, he got far worse at home, and it was because he called someone what he thought was a nasty name.  If he’d said “asshole,” he’d have gotten the same from me.  What’s sad to me isn’t that he said it.  I mean, when I was in 3rd grade, I called and  kid a bastard, got pulled off the playground, and Mrs. Odom asked me if I knew what that meant.  When I said no, she explained it to me, and I felt so silly for repeating something I’d heard (my dad and I were in Germany solo and we played A LOT of Atari), and I learned never to use that word again hurtfully.  What did Aidan learn? In his words, “Not to say “gay” because it’s a bad word.”

For the last time:  GAY IS NOT A BAD WORD.

Yes, I’m horrified that he called another child gay, especially in a hurtful tone.  Yes, we’re dealing with it, so pretty please don’t throw stones at me.  Children aren’t perfect, and neither is this mama.  I was waiting for some perfect moment that never came.  But I’m more upset that by refusing to teach what was done wrong, he had the complete wrong impression, and if I hadn’t checked and corrected him, his first run in with a gay couple would leave him thinking, “that’s bad.  It’s a bad word, so it must be bad.”

All because I hadn’t brought it up earlier in life, and his teachers avoided even saying it, let alone explaining what he’d done wrong.

What did I learn?  That even though I wanted this to be brought up naturally, like I addressed rape,  it wasn’t, and there’s no perfect time to talk to our kids about things like this.  Looks like I need to write another letter so that with our smaller kids, I can engineer their moment so this word will never leave a bad impression on them.

Sigh.  Oh, and I hugged him.  A lot.  But he’s still grounded.  

10 Comments on “Speak no Evil, unless it’s not.”

  1. seizethelatte.com

    I love this post so, so much. (Oh, who am I kidding? I love all your posts!) I can't even tell you how much I appreciate, respect, and admire the way you dealt with this. You were nuanced, understanding, and open-minded in ways that not many people would be able to manage in the midst of such a sensitive and loaded issue. I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating: those boys are really lucky to have you as their mama.

    1. Anonymous

      Thanks, Lillian!!! Trust me, I didn't feel all nuanced or understanding at first! Sigh. Learning, learning, learning… every day!

  2. Samantha Curtis

    I'm speechless; it is SO sad they treated it as a bad word instead of calling you to explain it like you said. Unfortunately, our culture still views gay couples as taboo and makes people uncomfortable to talk about. Maybe one day it will be accepted without criticism… But you're right, something you thought could be explained by you was taught the wrong way and bam, recipe for disaster.

  3. The Laws

    And in my head, the use of gay isn't the issue as much as the fact that you had another student putting hands on your son in an inappropriate fashion and NOTHING was done about it. How is THAT okay by any standard? He wasn't doing anything more than responding with a "You're gross and mean for what you're doing" because by his own admittance, that's what he thought the word meant. As someone who had to deal with both ends of inappropriate touching in school as a kid – I would be LIVID and completely up in arms with the school. Just wow.

  4. manish jha

    Rebecca you are social crusader.I am speechless and i couldn't understand how you understand all these things which we often tend to ignore.The best thing about you is how you look towards a thing from all perspective rather than being biased. You have got a very nice way of explaining things which are considered as a social Taboo.

  5. Amanda Dearest

    I had a VERY similar situation. My sons best friend ran up to me at the bus stop, rushing to tell me that my son had called him… the "n" word. Oh. My. God. I lost it. I yelled. Im not proud of it. I was just so ANGRY. When did my sweet little boy use words like that??? After i had taken some time to calm down, and think of BOTH of our actions, i asked why he used that word. He explained his friend was pinching and poking him, which led to arguing, which led to name calling. Then the friend called him "the F word" Theee f word. Not the used by adults all day long f word, but the one used in reference to gay people. The whole situation shattered my heart. I felt like my guts were being ripped out. I asked if he knew what either of these words meant, and his definition of the f word was close to that of your sons. And he had no idea what the n word meant, just that it was a "bad word". I did my best to explain both in terms fit for a six year old, and that these words are used by adults to really hurt people, and he cried. It broke HIS heart too. He was still punished for his behavior, as he was using the n word to be hurtful, and thats never ok. I also spoke to the friends parents about it. Overall i was ashamed that i had failed to teach my son these things, before something like this happened. It just never occurred to me before this. Im proud though to know he (after learning the true meaning) was just as appalled as i was. I think ill keep him:)

    1. manish jha

      Hi Amanda why are you ashamed of the all these thing.Its not that you forgot to teach your young ones what is right or what is wrong.The little boy didn't do it intentionally. At the end of the day the baby realized his mistake.Its because of people like you and rebecca we have a society where a person can say this the place where we want to live.Happy Parenting.

  6. Heather

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post. What an admirable way to handle this situation. I love this post just as much as the letter you wrote to your sons about rape. As the mother to a little boy (coming from a family of basically nothing but women), I have struggled with ways to word some very important topics that I know will eventually need to be addressed. I'd love for my son to have play dates with my friends who are gay and have a son his age, but due to the military, we don't live close enough. I too thought that this situation would roll around naturally so that it would just seem normal to him, but you've reminded me that we can't always wait for these perfect scenarios to roll around before talking to our kiddos. Thank you, thank you!

  7. Joe Casadonte

    Rebecca, I'm new to your blog (brought here when someone posted your "letter to your sons" blog post on FB). I just want to say: bravo, well-done & kudos! Not an easy topic to write about and live through and it seems you did both of them well from my perspective (FWIW).

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