By my accounting, in the past year, my 9-year-old son Aidan (photo above, right) has gotten detention 12 times, for such activities as language choices (teaching a kindergartener a four-letter word for intercourse); pulling a girl’s pants down; stealing money from the book fund and then lying about it; hiding in the bathroom; climbing the fence into the woods; and, my personal favorite, getting his head stuck in a concrete staircase.
My 11-year-old son Zane (photo above, left) has only served two detentions: language choices (comparing a girl in the class to a female canine) and jumping the same fence into the same woods. But Zane has never been one to be outdone, and so he has been removed from the soccer team (for telling a coach to shut up); removed from the basketball team (for asking a teacher named Virginia if her first name was false advertising); suspended for three days (for a fistfight in the boys’ bathroom); and suspended for five days (for shouting to a girl, in front of the bishop, “Shut the f*** up, b****).
You are assuming at this point that my husband Brian and I are lousy parents. You are probably right.
But before you call Child Protective Services, let me make a disclaimer: We are raising a boy born addicted to crack and another boy born addicted to methamphetamines, while keeping house for four rescue dogs, two of them crippled. Brian dances five separate dance jobs, and I serve as a Captain with the Sheriff’s Department, so our lives are “running on screech.”
I wonder how we teach our children values. We try to model the lives we want our sons to live. You won’t find me pulling girl’s pants down or fighting another deputy in the bathroom or even getting my head stuck in a concrete staircase. I admit to a fair amount of “non-pro social language” but I say to the boys that foul language is a special spice. Cursing is like Tabasco sauce. It’s great for the times that you want to burn your mouth up with chili, but not mashed potatoes. And who really wants jalapeño ice cream?
But still my boys jump the fence into the forbidden woods.
I have spent a fair amount of time this year with the woman who runs the school, a no-nonsense nun named Sister Shirley. I have come to dread her number when the cell phone rings, and the questions: “Was Aidan’s phonics textbook really eaten by a Pekingese?”; “Did you hand your boys a twenty-dollar bill and tell them to go out and have a good time; just don’t tell the nuns about it?”; “Did you tell Zane that the name of a Far Eastern religion was Zane Booty-ism?”
I always answer, “My boys are works in progress. They may have bad manners but they really are wonderful. PLEASE do not expel them.”
If you follow the politics of San Francisco, you may have noticed that the Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese recently issued an edict stating that all teachers must sign a morality clause, excluding such things as my lifestyle. One of the local reporters asked me about it, not because I am prominent, but because I am oppositional, and I basically told her that the Archbishop didn’t build the church, that we did. I added, “Our family was rejected by four Catholic schools because we didn’t fit their model of a good Catholic family.” We never aimed to be models.
I sing with the choir at Most Holy Redeemer Church. It is a Catholic church in the Castro usually under fire by the archdiocese when they call it “the gays and the grays.” But we like it. It’s the only church that won’t throw the boys out. So as I was singing the psalm with the choir this Sunday, a woman came in, who, from across the nave I could tell was Sister Shirley. She came in with her mother and another nun. (No, not Sister Laverne.)
Came time for the end of the mass: We Catholics do this sign of peace thing where we all shake hands and hug and whatever. Sister Shirley came up and hugged both boys, then Brian and me. I said, “Please do not expel the boys for what I said in the newspaper.”
She smiled and said, “No, but now I know where they got that streak of bad manners.”
Brian nodded in agreement.