Proudness, or, Not Buttheads, Not Really

Today was the first real day of school vacation for the boys, I mean the first real day at home (they’d been away at a farm over the weekend), and of course they got in a knock-down, drag-out brawl. Which happened while I was on the phone with my friend Natalie who is my Wedding Coordinator, and who was very professional and kind about ignoring the escalating sound of battle in the background as we discussed guest lists, budget, flowers, and cake. After I hung up, I blew those boys’ hair back so far it’s a wonder the little brats aren’t shiny bald. Then we had a group hug. Then everybody ate lunch and got ready to go to their camp, as today is the first day (Seth is taking basketball and Owen is doing baking). As I was looking up the directions, Seth came trailing in and said, out of the blue, “Mom, sometimes when kids at school want to call other kids retarded or something, they say ‘Jew’.”

A piece of news which makes me sad, but how blessed I feel that Seth brought it up. His manner indicated that he knows that that’s not a good thing to say but maybe doesn’t exactly know why. Well, we made a start on it in the car to camp. I talked about how Jews have been oppressed by Christians from day one, about how using “Jew” like that is a hurtful slur, I guessed that often kids use that word in connection with money (I was right), and then talked about how Jews were forced to do jobs Christians considered dirty, including lend money, and then castigated them even more for doing dirty work, and how that hurtful stereotype has lasted all these hundreds of years, and that it will last until non-Jews break the cycle by educating themselves or having Jewish friends, or comes to their senses in any of the many ways that can happen.  I was about to tell them about pogroms but we got to the camp. “I’m only just getting started!” I cautioned them as we got out of the car, and both of them had that sort of I-love-you-but-you’re-really-weird smile on their faces. But I know they were listening. And I know my rants (which are really just my impassioned and compassionate observations on humans) contain good and useful and true information, the kind of information they can use as they carry on into adulthood. Pre-rant, I had just gotten through telling them how proud I was of them for coming around, apologizing, and getting right with each other and me after acting so poorly. “I know you boys are kind and smart and loving and funny and wonderful even though you sometimes act like buttheads,” I’d said.

I am so proud of them. I am so proud of them for deciding to notice injustice: these are the boys who came out of a gas station restroom a couple years ago, around this same time since we were on vacation, and asked for a sharpie so they could go back in and cross out the n-word that someone had written on the wall, and these are the boys who were as shocked and incensed as I was that our UU church didn’t even mention Martin Luther King in the sermon given on the MLK holiday weekend and so we wrote a letter together as a family, and the minister responded incredibly positively and read the letter in church the next Sunday and promised that next MLK day would be different. This is my eldest who just read Warriors Don’t Cry:A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals, and himself almost cried a few times. And this is my youngest to whom all human variation seems to be just a normal part of the mix instead of scary or weird or wrong. These are my boys – not buttheads. Not in the least.

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 5:55 AM  Leave a Comment