The M-O-M Line
Parenting provides one courage. Understanding that you are modelling behaviour, actions and sentiment for your children, this can provide an incentive for actions that you otherwise would not have. I have intense vertigo and loathe small heights and it's usually not worth the dizziness and hyperventilation to climb up. However, understanding that encouraging my boys to face their fears and make it to the top or to jump from a high platform onto a sponge pit, for instance, lacked any resonance if my actions modelled quitting, I've jumped off platforms and climbed up walls, I would not have otherwise. Recently, I was determined to overcome my vertigo and climb a rock climbing wall (admittedly a short one, but it was high enough for me!) to encourage my boys. So I climbed to the top - and then nearly fainted when I came down, proud of the fact that I had at least modelled the right sentiment for my kids. "Wait, did you actually make it to the top?" my elder son asked. "I didn't see you" my incredulous younger son remarked. So I suppose, if you're modelling behaviour, perhaps better make sure you have an audience for it.
As much as I encourage my boys to face their fears, they love to remark the same to me. When I was a child, I had numerous stuffed toys and I'm still particular to cuddling a teddy here and there. My boys adore stuffed toys too and sleep with them. Yet their stuffed toys are orcas, sharks, tigers, spiders, snakes and other predators. The latter two are are a large redback spider and a long Burmese python, respectively. My children love to drape the python around me exclaiming "face your fears mama! face your fears!" or hide them throughout the apartment, including in my bed. As the redback was too large for even my peripheral vision to trick me, they obtained a much smaller black spider that suits its role perfectly. Nearly every week, there's a shriek from me at least once as I encounter the spider or snake, followed invariably by an eruption of laughter and a remark to face my fears.
One cannot always model the best behaviour. I am an erroneous being, crisp with contradiction and my faults are what I model for my kids. I'm late, I'm absent-minded (I am forever looking for my keys, my phone and my wallet and without going on the hunt following the beeps from their electronic tags I'd be lost), I'm accident prone and I habitually swear (one thing I've noticed in my adopted country is that Americans swear far less than Australians and Serbians, but there's nothing wrong with a colourful emphatic here and there- I see the issue only when expletives replace expression as opposed to simply providing well needed emphasis -particularly as Serbian has such a richness of expletives to choose from). M started swearing at about three. If he would drop something, he'd put his hands up in exasperation and exhale "oh, fuck" and I would think "oh, fuck, I do that". After a few exchanges with his kindergarten teacher, we came to a modicum of consensus in which he understood that swearing is not OK at school and when he's outside anywhere or with friends (and thankfully I've had no such exchanges in 1st grade). Unfortunately this has taught the kids about personas and society in a manner I don't agree with.
Taking on personas is instrumental to our socially mediated society. It's the foundation of its structural positioning and allows people to abdicate responsibility for their actions - it's just another day at work. What we wouldn't and couldn't do eye to eye, we do daily by physically and intellectually distancing ourselves from the consequences of our actions. In one of the masterpieces of literature ever written, War and Peace, Tolstoy perfectly analyzed this pernicious problem at the carious core of our society. We don't live in Tsarist Russia, but the carious core remains. The etymology of "person" is instructive - it derives from the Latin "persona" which is in turn from the Greek πρόσωπον (transliterated as "prosopon") the mask utilized by actors in the theatre. Society is a masquerade. I hope to raise people that oppose that and will always be themselves - yet it's a difficult perspective to proffer when it's not tenable to do that in the current clime.
Then again showing contradictions, complications, woe and weakness is perhaps not entirely negative. For if we merely show our children strength and success, they may not be able to negotiate and process failure. They may not understand that failure and rejection are part of the vicissitudes of life. There's a brilliant children's book "Mop Rides the Waves of Life" by Jaimal Yogis, which uses surfing as a brilliant metaphor for life. The didactic is instructive: we must learn that good waves come and go. This is difficult for adults, let alone children. Perhaps what is most needed to be taught is emotional resilience. To show striving, failing, learning and continuing forth - a strength in itself. It's as important- if not more instructive- to teach kids how to fall and get up again as it is to not fall in the first place. In any case, we cannot model perfect behaviour, because we are not perfect and we cannot teach them all, because we are also still learning - and perhaps the core thing we can teach is that we don't have all the answers and that this state of uncertainty is OK.
I suppose it's fortunate, then, that my kids are learning fast that I do not have all the answers, nor do we as a species. Their engineering knowledge is perhaps even shaper than mine, as they love to enjoy videos on how engines work and other facets which I must admit I am not keenly familiar with. They are also fast learning that we as a species have a lot to figure out. L is fixated on the big bang. "How can something come from nothing?" he asks, demanding elucidation of the illogical. What can we say about this great magic hat trick of our existence? How do we explain singularity which merely hints at something not discernible? I am privy to the multiverse theory, viscerally attached to Steven Weinberg's theory that we're only in tune to our universe, albeit there are many present in the same room, if only we changed our frequency to align with them. Yet even multiverses don't solve the problem of origin - how did they start? And if we point to a divine being, that also doesn't explain it either for who made that creator? To stop at divinity is to abdicate the search for truth - but then, maybe the point is to understand that we'll never understand. Or that there is no point but what we make of it. Derrida warned us of the absurdity of logic and language, which is recursive to the point of infinity, so that to prove A we need to show B and C and so on, and we never reach an answer unless we contain the paradigm of explanation on a foundation that is but a wisp of an assumption. Perhaps life is about embracing absurdity and uncertainty. All that we know for sure, is that the meaning of life, is a verb - it's about doing something. Thinking, laughing, exploring, connecting, feeling.
L is steadfast in his love for the ocean and marine life - and after all, we are the "blue" planet-and continues to want to be a marine biologist, although at times he has declared he is conflicted with a rising interest in other things, such as in film. M changes his mind as if on caprice weekly from being an engineer, to a chef, to a musician. I continually remind them that the only thing they should "be" is themselves. They can do many things - why pick one? L can be a marine biologist as well a filmmaker (as he sometimes opines being), and in fact the two are complementary and there's no reason M cannot design submarines or trains, cook and compose songs.
I am now routinely placed in check by my kids. When I went to taste an octopus dish at a recent dinner, L excoriated me for my hypocrisy and demanded that I stick to my word. "You teach me to stick to my deals, so you keep yours" he remarked as he reminded me that a couple months prior to my arrest of ingesting this delectable dish, we had a meaningful connection with a Giant Pacific Octopus at the Academy of Science. Usually in hiding, the octopus came out to greet us and looked into our eyes with such empathy that the boys and I were entranced. I was riven with emotion and declared that I could never eat an octopus again. Two months later, sitting at a table in Fort Greene, I was about to pop a piece of tentacle into my mouth when my aspiring marine biologist rebuked me. I had in truth forgotten the promise I made, but I am glad my son kept me in check. Yet, in my defense, octopuses are extremely saporous and they know it too as they are privy to cannibalism. So I ask, if they eat each other, how is eating them an offense?
This past Halloween, L continued his disaster trend and was the Concorde. M was a submarine. Fortunately, their father is fantastic at crafts and made two beautiful costumes using cardboard, spray paint, markers, leather belts and even a balloon for the front of the submarine. They were a hit. I had about sixteen minutes to design and make a costume. I had scissors and sanguine tape. Considering that SCOTUS is ripping apart the constitution in a most frightening manner, I decided that it was an appropriate subject for Halloween. So I printed out the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th and 15th amendments and tore them up, taping them onto myself to show the ripped up constitution. My boys would have preferred if I were a shinkansen.
The boys have always been keen on design and building, including their "free lego" time, but now they're also drawing plans of their designs. M is intent on designing a stealth and environmentally friendly submarine, naming her the Indestructible. M's idea, which continues to be in process, is that designs are best when they utilize the environment they are to be in to inform their design - which is pretty on point. M's perspective is that he can save on materials by utilizing pressure to connect materials- except he can't figure out what to do about the changes in pressure, including the differential between the surface and the depths. I admire that he set himself this task however and look forward to his conclusion.
While M is intensely interested in machines, he has less interest in nature, unlike L. M does however love orcas, sharks, tigers and other big cats, jellyfish and cephalopods. Nature is passé, machines are the future, according to M. These are tenebrous times. I informed M that the best machines mimic nature- such as for instance, the helicopter mimicking the abilities of the dragonfly. This piqued his interest in biology - so that he could transpose his knowledge to designing machines.
The past year has been one of travel. Some may say there is not much gained in a child travelling (as opposed to say a teenager) and that they forget the experience. I beg to differ. Whether or not particular travel will stay in a child's consciousness, it will distinctly develop their personality and worldview, particularly in their formative years. I want my boys to be global citizens and understand our interconnection. However, there is always too much of a good thing. L and M are Californian and our beautiful state has much, including some of the grandest trees in the entire world. We are blessed. While I am forever amazed at sequoias and redwoods, the boys are not. They adore the trees, but they have no sense of amazement. They grew up with them. It's par for the course. When we were able to see General Sherman and other titans at Sequoia National Park amongst the glitter of the snow, the boys were excited rather than in awe. They were far more excited however to see the cacti in Joshua Tree because it was new to them and to go bouldering over the rocks. The desert fascinated them. That said, seeing a beautiful old oak tree in South Carolina, they were underwhelmed that it was 400 years old. When you're used to a promenade beneath a cathedral of colossal ancients, a tree that's barely hit half a thousand is but a babe.
The boys got into the World Cup with a fury this year and became obsessed with bicycle kicks. L decided to make flags for each team playing important games and he taped them back to back so that when one team won a goal he would point that team's flag victoriously into the air. Thankfully we were able to watch the final on the plane, because our flight was delayed on the runway for some nebulous reason even though the sky was clear, perhaps because the pilot and co-pilot were also watching the final. I usually find the leagues have better games than the cup, but this was an awesome cup, which was bittersweet. For many reasons, it was not a good choice to hold the cup in Qatar, particularly how foreign workers were egregiously mistreated in building the stadiums, its poor human rights record, including its mistreatment of women and the LGBTQIA+ communities and its hectic schedule, particularly for European leagues. That's aside from the allegations of corruption. If a country can't host the women's cup, it should not be allowed to host the men's cup - period. Even in 2023, we must not forget that women are still mistreated around the world-the Taliban in Afghanistan won't let girls go to school and imprisons them both intellectually and in draping them in sarcophagi, their eyes seeing a world through bars of cloth. Courageous and determined Iranians are risking everything to continue to fight - day in, day out - for a freer society. The whole world should be supporting Iranians right now, but they are not obtaining sufficient media attention. We also continue to have misogyny in Western states - but this new generation gives me hope. They perceive difference in sex (which does show at their age -going to a birthday party recently where my son was one of only two boys- I was flummoxed that the girls appeared to be playing lugubrious musical chairs, the party laced with lacrimation-and my son simply shrugged and remarked, "the girls need to chill out"), but they don't see any superiority. My sons can't imagine girls not being able to do anything and are as excited to watch female sport as they are to watch men's sport, for instance, proud that Australia and New Zealand are hosting the women's cup this year. Nor do they blink at two fathers or two mothers (L was after all a ring bearer when heavily preggers, I officiated the marriage ceremony of my one of my closest friends to his husband).
Despite M voicing for another successive year that he was incredulous about Santa, to hedge his bets, he decided to write a list and then ensured that I registered every item on the list and informed me that if he didn't obtain the LEGO set he wanted, "the house will flood with [his] tears". The boys received a nerf gun from a relative for Christmas. I had not let the boys play with any type of guns, but this is a losing battle because their friends have these toys and unless you extricate them from society, which I won't do, they will be exposed to it. An article I read last year interviewing Yoko Ono years ago was instructive. The interviewer noticed that Yoko had let her son run around with a toy gun and astonished, asked why she allowed this, considering his father was assassinated by a gunman. Yoko's answer stuck with me - children have a strong understanding of what is fiction and reality and if you stunt their ability to play all kinds of fantasy games, including games of shooting/war, you repress an instinct that can then ferment and be expressed in dangerous ways. So I let them play, after discussing the dangers that even nerf bullets could make - no targeting the face and no shooting up close. They respected the rules and played- and were then flummoxed by the plethora of warnings in Charleston prohibiting concealed weapons. "Mum, I don't think we can pass security as we have a nerf gun" M voiced in concern, thinking we were going to be inspected. "Does it apply to nerf guns?" L asked and for good measure, "what's concealable again?" When I explained it meant to cover and hide something, the boys then asked if they would be allowed to go in with their nerf gun exposed. I told them we would leave the nerf gun in the car and didn't want to explain that the signs were due to people actively carrying real guns, which continues to be a stain on our democracy.
The boys adored NYC. They walked the High Line, through Central Park, went to MOMA and the Museum of Natural History and yes, the Intrepid too, and experienced the intensity of the city (a confused M asked me after witnessing a traffic altercation, "mama, what's an asshole?). We had long days traversing the cement jungle and its architectural wonders, broken up by long lunches during which the boys were immersed in their journals, drawing and writing in a ferocity of inspiration. One eve, the day being spent at Central Park, the MOMA and the East Village, M broke down and decided he was going to hail a cab and start a new life with a new family (I forget the precipitant of this tirade except that it was rather mundane). It was a Plinian eruption, attracting some interest from passersby with one passing pedestrian shaking his head and mumbling to his mate, "New Yorkers, they start young".
The boys, unsurprisingly, adored the subway and would announce each stop for the other passengers (at night, Marco would say, "I'm waiting for the M-O-M line for my goodnight cuddle"). One day, M jumped out at a station as my heart jumped out with him -but before I made it out, he jumped back in. I think I gained five grey hairs from those four seconds. Thankfully each boy knows our phone numbers off my heart and knows to wait where they are but I'm glad we didn't have to undertake that harrowing test.
The boys are into Mad Libs at the moment, which is heaps of fun for everyone. I also like that they are learning grammar - what is an adjective, an adverb etc. No matter the topic though, the boys insert the usual suspects. Favoured nouns are: bullet trains, fighter jets, submarines, aircraft carriers, orcas and tigers. Pee, poop, vomit and acid are also favourites as well as penises, butts and "Virginias".
I've been on innumerable flights throughout my life, some more eventful and turbulent than others. Yet I've never feared for my life. Flying into SFO in the middle of an historical storm, however, when the visibility was nil and the turbulence was fierce, I was terrified. I felt too far from my sons across the aisle and attempted to harness all my strength in looking confident as they wondered whether the "bumpy" ride was something to be concerned about. "Not at all!" I exclaimed with what I hoped was a smile, while silently I screamed for a saviour. After two failed attempts, the pilot thankfully decided not to attempt a third and while we were stuck on the plane for hours, everyone was supremely serene - for I think we all registered that we had avoided a disaster and would all see the new year - and that was good enough. To 2023!