Apologies in advance for length and stream of consciousness, as this post was written quickly between doctor visits, but I really needed to get these thoughts out.
Last night I received a really bothersome email from Ethan’s teacher. It was a LONG email covering everything from his disrespectful behavior in class to exhibiting an “aggressive look” while playing football at recess. The crux of the note was to let me know that Ethan’s behavior has really regressed in the last two weeks (since returning from spring break), and could there possibly be anything happening at home that might be fueling this change?
Ethan and I sat down, and I read him the LONG email from his teacher. He said he was stressed with the standardize testing that started after break, and he was being bullied by a group of boys who keep calling him things like princess, queen, and lesbian. I knew this group of boys were being mean to Ethan, but I’m old-school when it comes to bullying: figure it out because bullying is a part of life. That advice is not working because in verbal retaliation to these boys, it’s Ethan’s loud voice that the teacher hears and E gets in trouble.
Then there’s the matter of “Family Life.” (Fellow StB moms: I highly recommend you read the book, if you haven’t already. I respect if your opinion is different than mine, but it’s worth a look if you haven’t reviewed.)
The Family Life class was introduced after spring break and is part of the local Catholic school curriculum, as I understand it. Coincidentally, the introduction of this class corresponds to Ethan’s change in behavior.
The cover of Family Life
When I asked E about the class and if it bothered him, he said no. Then he looked away and HUGE tears started to fall from his eyes. His face turned a splotchy red and he started sobbing. “Look at the cover,” he said. “The whole book is about families with moms and dads. Even kids with divorced parents have a mom and a dad.”
“I feel like an albino zebra because I stick out so much,” he cried as we hugged.
Ethan said the teacher asks questions like, “Who are you closer to, your mom or your dad?” The class has opened up the flood gates to a host of topics including bestiality (which was described as 2 animals having sex) and how a judge who imposes the death penalty is committing a sin. (A good Catholic judge cannot do that, was the message.)
Over the last two weeks, I’ve asked every day about the lesson, the questions asked/answered, and corrected the issues I thought were misrepresented by the teacher, I.e., what bestiality really means. (Also, the judge is doing HIS JOB, and by that logic, a Catholic cannot act as an attorney, serve on a jury, be a lawyer in a criminal case, or act as a legislator making the laws – the laws the lawyers and judges are following when they impose or recommend sentencing.)
After he went to bed, I thumbed through the book. Images of smiling, very traditional families stared out from the pages. Mom, dad, 2 kids. There was diversity, but not within one family. White parents had white kids. Black parents had black kids. Asians with Asians. There were no mixed race families, no adoption of children of another race., no same sex parents or transgender discussions.
OMG! These homogeneous families are so damn happy!
I read with interest the section on Fathers and Mothers. A few excerpts:
On Fathers, page 34:
Fathers come in many sizes and styles. Some are forceful and outgoing, others are quiet and strong. Some love sports and others love music. Some like to cook, and all seem to enjoy a good home-cooked meal! Some have to travel or work late a lot, and some may have lots of pressures on them. Some still find time to coach a sports team or to teach a child to ride a bike, and others wish they could. Some fathers may tell funny stories to their children or listen to their problems. Very few fathers, however, are just perfect.
“Dad, can I have a Members Only jacket, too,” junior asks admiring the soft khaki fabric and the numerous pockets. “You have to work hard, travel a lot, and love sports or music first, Big Guy. But now, let’s say we go home and eat a big home-cooked meal?” dad responds.
On Mothers, page 35:
Mothers fill many roles in today’s busy world. They may work outside the home, as well as care for their families. They may work as volunteers. They have many things to do, but mothers try to constantly be aware of then needs of their children.
Interesting. So dad’s all busy with his travel and stressful schedule, and mom… What? She “may” work outside the home? Heck, as long as she’s home in time to make her husband that “home-cooked meal,” it’s probably okay for her to have her little “outside the home” job. Dad, as we all know, is the real hero in this story.
WTF, Family Life?
Here’s what I get from the book: moms talk on the phone a lot, as evidenced by the only two photos showing a parent without a child in the book. Seriously, there are no “this is just dad” photos. Just these two of women, no kids in sight, talking on CORDED phones. These ladies are probably sharing casserole recipes to make that hardy home-cooked meal men love so much! Amiright, ladies?!
The section concludes with this, page 35:
Men and women each have important roles to play in God’s plan. Sometimes children experience the love and care of just one parent. Sometimes children don’t have any parents. Yet, it is a great blessing for children to grow up in the presence of two loving parents, a father and a mother. Both give love and attention, both offer models of what it means to be a loving and faithful man or woman.
So, my child isn’t blessed because he has one parent? He gets the shaft because his dad chose the bottle? Gee, kid, sorry about that, but look around, the rest of your classmates have this “great blessing” that you don’t (and won’t) have.
Um, not a great message. No wonder he’s acting a fool in school. Hell, I’m sitting at Panera writing this and SEETHING with anger at this bullshit book.
Let’s talk about sex, page 39:
“It’s good to meet you. Where are you from?” People you meet often want to know where you were born or where your ancestors come from. Knowing where you came from helps them understand who you are. You came from God. God created you. Before you came to be, God thought about you and loved you. Everyone who has ever was or ever will be came from God. That’s why you can say you are part of the Family of God. Your parents cooperated with God’s plan for you. Through the miracle of procreation, they assisted God in bringing you to life.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure Mike and I just got busy. Sperm. Egg. Boom! Miracle of life. And if someone responded to my inquiry of “Where are you from?” with a bullshit “I’m part of the Family of God,” I’d pretty much write them off as coo-coo birds.
I’m not saying Ethan and Lauren aren’t part of God’s plan, but this is a pretty limited, self-serving explanation. To be fair, the book does include a little bit more on pages 48-49, but it’s VERY limited and focused on outdated notions. (Go figure!)
I responded to his teacher with this note:
Thank you so much for your email. No, Ethan did not tell me all this (except the testing stuff). We are still seeing his therapist, every other week. This was not one of the weeks. However, Ethan and I had a VERY good talk tonight.
There are three big issues here:
- Testing pressure. Ethan has been stressed about the Iowas for months. I’ve let him know to just do his best, but he always stresses about tests. Testing causes him a lot of internal turmoil, particularly when he’s being asked questions he’s not familiar with. I’m not sure how to encourage him more than I have. And I’m not surprised that he’s upset during a testing week.
- Ethan has been on the receiving side of some major bullying for the last few weeks. My attitude toward bullying is old-school – bullying happens at all life stages, so find a way to deal with it. My advice is obviously not working. In the last few weeks, a group of boys (NAMES redacted to protect the underage guilty) have been calling him names including princess, queen, Hillary Clinton, and lesbian. Ethan’s response to retaliate verbally is getting him in trouble – Ethan’s voice is LOUD, so he’s the one being heard with his retaliation. (However, racial name calling is NEVER tolerated, and we discussed that at length.) He feels like he has to say something back to the boys because walking away makes the other kids laugh and Ethan gets embarrassed. He hasn’t mentioned the bullying to anyone at school because he doesn’t want retaliation from the boys finding out that he tattled. He’s afraid it will cause even further name calling and more aggressive bullying. Ethan also said nasty comments are not just directed at him – this group is making comments about teachers behind their backs (including the art teacher mentioned in your email). In the art situation, Ethan was trying to call out the boys for looking at the teacher while saying “we like you” but behind the teacher’s back, the boys were saying some REALLY nasty things about him. Ethan was trying to let the teacher know what the boys were really saying. He did not handle it appropriately and he acknowledges that. The bullying issue is such a big deal to him, that Ethan talked to his therapist about the bullying issue a few weeks ago, and she indicated that she would mention it to someone at St. B. I’m assuming that connection didn’t happen?
- Family Life. ETHAN NEEDS TO BE REMOVED FROM FAMILY LIFE IMMEDIATELY. First, perhaps I misunderstood, but I thought it was mentioned at the beginning of the year that the book would be sent home for parents to review in advance. That didn’t happen. I’ve had concerns the last few weeks about what was being taught – Ethan has come home asking about bestiality and why judges who impose the death penalty have committed a sin. (Note: Ethan’s dad was an attorney and we have A LOT of attorney/judge friends.) In addition, this subject IS the major difference in the last two weeks, as the book was introduced after spring break. Tonight, I asked Ethan about Family Life and if it was the reason for his behavior changes. His immediate response was “no.” Then he started to completely break down crying (the major, ugly kind of crying and sobbing). He said, “I didn’t even realize it until now, but Family Life time is hard for me. I thought I was over daddy’s death, but I’m not.” Take a look at the book – most of the photos are the shiny happy stereotypical family: mom, dad, 2 kids (I’m surprised there aren’t more white picket fences and dogs). Yep, there are photos of mom with the kids, but there are also a lot with dad and the kids. (And a strange number of photos of mom on a corded phone, no husband or kids around?) Discussions about “who are you closer to, your mom or dad?” (or however it was phrased in class, Ethan didn’t remember the exact wording) are causing major issues with Ethan’s mental health. THESE DISCUSSIONS ARE A TRIGGER FOR HIM AND HIS GRIEF, AND (AS I’VE MENTIONED BEFORE) TRIGGERS CAN AFFECT ALL HIS BEHAVIORS AND THESE EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS ARE NOT GOING AWAY, even outside of the lesson. I really believe spending time with this book and these lessons are hurting his attitude and his behaviors at school. Ethan and I agree that there is value with Family Life, and I would like to keep the book and teach the lessons to my son myself. We can coordinate what lessons you’re teaching each week so Ethan can stay on the same page as his classmates. But having him sit in class where a more “traditional” family model is discussed is very hurtful for him. (In his words: “Even in divorced families, the kids have a mom and a dad. I feel like an albino zebra because I stick out so much.”)
Finally, I want to clarify the activities on the playground. When the boys play football, it’s aggressive all the way around – the GAME is aggressive. There’s a move that the boys came up with earlier in the year called the “(LAST NAME) Attack” in which Ethan acts as the rusher. You can’t have a rusher and/or a move called “(LAST NAME) Attack” without an aggressive facial look. (Also, Ethan played tackle football in St. Louis before we moved and rule No. 1 is to look tough. Seriously.) The aggressive look might appear out of context from where (name of recess dictator redacted) stands observing the game. If football is allowed, aggressive looks (and, let’s be honest, aggressive actions) should be allowed. Other kids are knocking down players and throwing the ball too hard resulting in injuries. Kids are getting bruised, and yet a lot of the class wants to play. Aggression is part of the game. Let them play the game, or ban the game. It’s football, not ring-around-the-rosie.
Ethan and I have talked about appropriate school behavior, not talking out and being more respectful. If the bullying and Family Life issues are addressed, his behaviors will change dramatically.
Today, in response, Ethan’s teacher asked that I reconsider removing him from Family Life because he asks good questions and leads the discussion. He’s not afraid to ask questions that other kids are too shy to address, and she feels it’s good for everyone if he’s part of the group since he plays a lead. Um, no, I stand by my position to remove him from Family Life.
And if she wants him involved, then she has to deal with the consequences of his behavior triggered by this bullshit, outdated, superficial, Pollyanna class. We’ll see how Monday’s meeting goes…