I have a dear friend, let's call her 'C is for Coffee', and yesterday I got to see her for the first time in months. Our original plan was to split a Salmon Caesar Salad but we got distracted by shoes! Look at these! Aren't they a great reason to skip lunch (and um, my posting responsibilities for the day)?
And since my shoes (cute as they are) aren't really enough blogging penance and also, since I'm in a picture posting mood - here is a picture of Chaos' new look:
Ok, Ok. I didn't really pinch his head off for getting suspended. He just didn't want his picture taken. And I'll tell you why. Remember how Chaos used to look like Ron Weasley? Remember how I surrendered somewhat gracefully when I lost the Hair War and let my 13-year old have some control over his image? Well, during the War, many of the battles were about image/perception/behavior. I pointed out that if he looked like a thug/slacker he was more likely to act like one and/or be treated like one. He pointed out that his look was 'cool' and only completely old and square people like me thought he looked like a thug/slacker and he didn't care about their opinions. (Truth? He made his point in much more polite terms - but that is essentially what he was saying.) He's a good kid with good grades and I allowed as how he could have some more control over his image - hence the scraggly hair, the saggy jeans, and the obnoxious t-shirts. The conditions were that 1) he had to keep his hair clean and out of his face (need I say we later disagreed about exactly how 'out of his face' was defined?), 2) he had to wear clothes I considered appropriate to functions important to me (e.g. Thanksgiving Dinner and church), and 3) his 'bad boy' image did not get to translate into 'bad boy' behavior. There was probably a bit of a gray area in telling him that if he got into 'trouble' he would have to cut his hair. His grades dropped ever so slightly and we had to have follow up amendments defining how big of a grade slide counted as 'trouble'.
However, good kids with (just slightly less) good grades can still make bad choices when angry at being bullied in embarassing ways. Instead of telling the bullies to stop, instead of coming to a teacher, administrator, parent, or coach, and after putting up with it as long as his proto-coping skills and newly minted testosterone would allow - Chaos told the two kids that he would shoot them if he had a gun. This caused him to get into 'trouble' with no gray area WHATSOEVER.
He is lucky he was not expelled. He knows it. I certainly know it. I was a youth minister when Columbine happened. How can a threat like that not be taken seriously today??? Oh my boy. My angry, embarassed, smart-in-some-ways-and-not-in-other-ways boy. I love you. But we're not letting any of this slide. The school has been fantastic. The teachers all said he is respectful, and a leader, and a little silly in a good way, and they like him very much. The administrators said they believe he is a good kid who made a bad choice and they want him to stay in their school and they want to help him learn some skills for navigating the rocky road that is middle school (and high school and life!) The Vice-Principal told me that he stood up straight, looked her in the eye, and told her the exact truth about what he'd said. She said she was very impressed with that show of character. She said he truly understood the severity of the situation and he was honestly remorseful. She reassured me as not only an experienced Vice-Principal, but also as a mother of grown sons, that as serious as this is, it would be ok.
When I picked him up from school (just before the tornados), he wasn't sullen or pouty or obnoxious in any way. He told me he was sorry. He hadn't meant the threat, but he'd wanted them to stop and leave him alone. He also admitted he was angry about lots of stuff and that it had come out indirectly. My mother (who is a therapist and also his biased grandmother) spent an hour talking to Chaos that night. She was surprised at how well he was handling everything. He talked to her about what had happened, about what he could have/should have done instead, about his new restrictions, and about his feelings. VBGF (who is, as you may remember, a seventh grade math teacher) talked to him, too, and reassured me that I wasn't being naive - that he is a good kid, that this will be ok, and that she believes with all her heart in him. I needed to hear all of those things - because when the Vice-Principal first called I was completely shaken. Chaos had been so well behaved at home for two or three weeks. Not in a fakey way either. He had a genuinely good attitude about things and was showing some proactive kindness, generosity, and hop-to around the house. He was being so responsible that I had finally given in three days before and let my sons use their money to buy Air Soft Guns.
I had been EXTREMELY reluctant to allow these, in my opinion, real-looking guns. They are modern BB guns. Only safer, actually. They shoot soft foam pellets. But they look real, the foam pellets still sting a bit sometimes, and darn it - I was hit in the face with a BB gun as a kid and I don't like the idea of them. LOTS of kids here have them. Heck - LOTS of kids around here have real hunting guns and like to shoot animals with them. ICK!!! At least my kids aren't interested in that at all. But they LOVE army games. They love strategy and weapons and running around. Laser-tag, nerf guns, paintball - they LOVE stuff like that. After talking to other parents (and trying NOT to remember how my guy friends in high school had loved nothing better than having bottle-rocket wars in the middle of the night at constructions sites!!!) I finally agreed the boys could buy these guns - BUT I had LOTS of rules. They had to buy protective eyewear with their own money too. They had to sign the contract with all of the rules printed out on it and there was a zero tolerance policy. No skirting the lines. They muck about with ONE safety rule, or aim at one animal, or in any way shape or form break a rule - that was IT. No more guns. Permanently.
Arrrgh. Can you imagine the first privilege I took away? The airsoft guns were gone before I even went to pick him up from school. Chaos lost his investment (almost a hundred bucks!) and he lost the privilege for everyone. Mayhem will get his money back, but there won't be any more airsoft guns in my house. When I did pick Chaos up from school, we went straight to get his hair cut. (I didn't know about the tornados heading our way at the time.) My ex had a hissy fit and accused me of embarassing our son, shutting him down so he wouldn't talk, and in general, of being a bad mother while he himself sympathized and wanted Chaos to know how much he 'supported' his son. Ole Tapioca Head will take any position that lets him be the buddy, buddy 'good guy'. I explained very carefully that I had no interest in embarassing or shaming Chaos. I was instituting restrictions that made sense and I was following though on the agreement Chaos and I had made. A deal is a deal and actions have consequences. (What kind of mom would I be if I didn't bring home this lesson on consequences??) One consequence for our son is that his hair, butt-crack revealing jeans, and snarky t-shirts are gone. At this very moment he's at school in cargo shorts (that don't even need a belt to stay up), a collared polo shirt, and with hair that looks like
In truth, he misses the sloppy pants and his beloved "I'm so dark I fart bats" shirt more than he misses his hair. He told me that at least he won't be so hot this summer.
I'll say one last thing. I do worry very much about boys, violence, and stupidity. I didn't grow up around boys at all. When I started dating them, they completely baffled me. It's not like I was totally prissy. I think I just had a healthy appreciation for reason and safety. Not so the boys I knew. They did stuff like throw explosives at each other and laugh when direct hits resulted in burned clothes and hair. They stole their parents cars in the middle of the night and ran into trees. I totally didn't grok it. And then I had my very own baby boy. And then another. And then another. How do you (and why should you want to) raise a son to be 'normal' if you aren't comfortable with what it means to a 'normal' boy? I was bound and determined to win the nature vs nurture battle. And often, I realize I'm losing. Sometimes it's ok. I have found out that a lot of 'normal' boy stuff is actually ok with me. I've also learned more about raising girls. I know now that it's not totally a nature of boys vs nature of girls issue. I needed all the reassurance that my husband, VBGF, my mother, and the Vice-Principal could give me that Friday afternoon. But ultimately, do you want to know what reassured me the most?
Chaos himself did. Not by saying the right things to the right people a la Eddie Haskell or even by doing the right things like standing up straight and looking folks in the eye. What reassured me most that Chaos was the sweet boy I believe him to be was this. When we finally got home on that long, dark day in the break between the tornados, the kids grabbed a few precious things to keep in the bathroom with them. Mayhem grabbed his totem bear Prometheus and his D&D books. Havoc grabbed Day Horsey, his picture of himself as Capt Jack Sparrow, and his dice. The Ninja Princessa grabbed her copy of Harry Potter and a blanket. Chaos? He grabbed Wasabi's things and yelled down the hall to me, "Mom, the little kids are all set up in this bathroom. Can you come be with them? I've got the dog and I'm going to take him into the other bathroom and get under the counter. He's scared and I think he'd be happier in there but I don't want him to be alone. Ok?" His 'treasure', the thing he cared most about, was to make sure the little ones were ok and were going to be more ok by me coming to be with them - and that the dog was loved and taken care of.
It might be a long and rocky road - and we may be at the very beginning of it - but I think it will truly be ok.