Friday, September 11, 2015

It takes a village

Found in the draft archives also….

By no means do I purport to be an expert on children.  In spite of the fact that I have 20 years more experience mothering and caring for children than my youngest sister, Flying Pig, I defer to her, or at least seek her advice on many matters concerning the raising of my kids, especially since the teenage years have descended upon us.  She is, in many ways, a child welfare expert by education, trade and natural ability.  And on occasion, when we doubt ourselves or are frustrated with our offspring, we go to family members who just plain have common sense about life and people, because oftentimes, they can see the forest for the trees far better than Bulldog and I can.

Among the family members whose advice we seek would be Bulldog's brother, the priest.  (I so wish he were a Brother, so I could say, "Bulldog's brother, the Brother.") My lesbian sister, Bean, my sister-in-law from my first marriage, Apple, and a few other sisters-in-law because we admired their loving and fresh approach to children.

Interestingly, we have seldom consulted any of them about how to handle issues related to DJ's coming out, or matters related to her care.   We feel pretty secure about that.  But we weren't sure how to go about informing our younger relatives-not that it was our place to inform them in any event because they were not our  children.  This decision on how, when and if to tell their children was decidedly up to them.  But we were worried about it.  Those first few months, we came up with mental lists of family members trying to decide to tell whom when, and in what order to inform them.   All kinds of factors entered the picture:  what was going on in the other persons' lives emotionally, financially, physically and  how likely would it be that we would run into them in the immediate future?  We were trying to be sensitive to our needs and theirs.

We worried the most about our little nieces and nephews.  We thought that in some cases, this situation might be beyond their parents' comfort levels.  It's one thing for a person to decide for themselves if they can accept this news, and another to make a decision to accept for one's children. And all of this was out of our hands and completely up to our adult family members.  I fretted, admittedly.  But once again, Dad's friend's advice proved to be sound. We had low expectations by preparing ourselves for the possibility of not seeing those members of our family with any frequency.  Once again, we underestimated the love and abilities of other folks and the unabashed genuine-ness that is inherent in nearly all children.

One sister-in-law, Tree-hugger, explained the situation to her son and daughter and their biggest concern was whether or not cousin-JD-now-known-as-cousin-DJ would still want to play with them.  Apple's approach was sheer brilliance and brought me to tears.  She told her two boys a story of a pirate who didn't really want to be a pirate.  He didn't feel like a pirate, didn't like dressing like a pirate and instead felt like he was really a.....let's say, a farmer, since I can't recall the example she used.  She asked her boys what they thought of that.  To them it was a simple proposition: stop being a pirate and be a farmer.  And with that, she explained about DJ.  They too just wanted reassurance that DJ would still want to play with them.

Another sister-in-law, Irish Rose, informed her children in her honest and loving way.  Admittedly, our nephew, who is a miniature philosopher, didn't understand feeling that way because he certainly didn't, but was ok with accepting someone else's feelings about themselves.  Our niece, characteristically loving and exuberant, was thrilled to have another female cousin.

To whom do we give the credit-the parents or the children?  Ideally both.  With all the folks mentioned above, as well as other members of Bulldog's family, my family, and our circle of close friends, there is this idea of finding teachable moments not only with our children, but with our family member's children, or our friend's children.  Not only do we support each other's children, but we may have to direct them, on occasion.  When Bulldog's family is gathered, and mayhem has the potential to ensue because of the sheer numbers that his Italian Catholic family comprise, particularly  when most of our multiple nieces and nephews are gathered under one small roof on Christmas Day, it was commonplace for any one of us to chorale them into helping to do chores, monitoring what they were watching on TV, and telling the older cousins that they got what they deserved when one of the younger cousins bit them since they wouldn't leave the child in question alone.  It's a very tribal way of child rearing and it works.  Moms and Dad can't be "on" all the time to catch our kid committing naughty or nice acts.  And the only way kids can figure out what is considered naughty or nice behavior is FEEDBACK.  As long as we surround ourselves with genetic family and chosen family (AKA:friends) that have some common sense, we can collectively raise our children well.

In my old neighborhood, back when I was a single mom, my good friend, also a single mom, invited us to dinner with her and her boys.  At some point, when I was preoccupied with I don't know what, she gently corrected one of my kids.  Then, later, she apologized to me for it.  It didn't bother me in the slightest.  I told her, "No worries Sue.  I believe in that whole "it takes a village to raise a child thing."

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