In which something works the way it’s supposed to

My biggest sin as an educator– other than my cynicism, anxiety, various and sundry mental issues, and recent conviction that society will not be around long enough for an education to actually help any of my current students in any meaningful way– is that I am terrible at parent contact. I’m good at email, but a lot of my parents don’t use email and it can be difficult to collect email addresses that work via any method other than brute force. I despise calling parents on the phone to complain to them about their kids. Absolutely hate it, and I’ll do anything to avoid doing it– including just continuing to put up with shitty behavior when it’s possible that calling home might actually help. Does it always? Of course not, and unfortunately the kids with the most issues most frequently come with parents who aren’t going to help me out. Not always, but frequently.

Yesterday was rough as hell. Everybody in the building was in a bad damn mood all day, and every single one of my classes was substantially more poorly-behaved than usual. I sent more kids to the office yesterday alone than I have for the entire first, what, four weeks of the year combined, including three from my seventh hour class, which is far and away my roughest group, to the point where the other five barely even register in comparison.

My principal emailed me and asked me– ha, asked, he says– to contact the parents of the three and let them know what had happened. Which I dutifully did, hating every second of it, but for two of the three I had a decent conversation with a parent and the third I left a detailed message.

Today was a better day across the board, and there was a notable improvement in behavior from all three of yesterday’s miscreants. And I should point out, to be fair, that two of the three are rarely problems, and in fact those two often help to rein in the third, who is more prone to having issues. They just didn’t yesterday, and each of them being dismissed from the room one at a time did not help things. But, point is: today all three gave me no trouble at all. So not only did the two parents I spoke to talk to their kids in a meaningful way, but apparently so did the third, based only on the voicemail message.

I pulled them aside at the end of the day and gave them the option of a second phone call today, one passing on that today featured good behavior, and all three of the boys seemed pretty excited by the idea and said I should do it. Which meant that I got the exquisite and fairly rare pleasure of calling three parents in a row– because this time the voicemail parent answered the phone– and savoring that first moment where they’re pissed off because if I’ve called two days in a row it must be because somebody fucked up and then giving them good news instead.

It’s not something I get to do often, but I enjoy it quite a lot when I do.

Turns out this isn’t complicated

Around a year ago, give or take, Instagram suggested I follow what was clearly a secondary account for one of my friends. It was a new account, with one picture on it, and in that picture my friend was wearing eyeshadow. My friend was not the type of person for whom randomly choosing to be photographed in eyeshadow was a terribly surprising thing, so I thought nothing of it and followed the account, then forgot all about it.

A few days later my friend’s wife texted me and asked if I had any questions about her — and this is the point where I can’t come up with a coherent way to not choose gendered words, so for the moment I’ll go with “husband,” because at the time that was the word I would have used– making the decision to transition.(*) Apparently that account wasn’t really meant for full public attention yet. Whoops! I laughed and said that I’d found it in suggestions and followed it and not thought about it for another single second and then went on to have the type of conversation that you typically have when an adult makes a decision like that.

My son is seven. He and their youngest son are just a couple of weeks apart in age, and have been best friends for more or less forever despite them having moved a couple hours away a few years ago. They regularly communicate via the Facebook Kids Messenger app and play Roblox together. My son is aware that his friend now has two moms, and has literally never asked a single question about it or displayed the slightest bit of confusion about it.

The other day I was sitting in my recliner while he was on the couch talking to his friend, and the iPad is loud, so it’s kind of hard to not overhear their conversations and I try to keep half an ear on him while he’s on the thing anyway just because, y’know, parenting. And I hear his friend tell him that he has decided to change genders and be a girl, and that he wants to use feminine pronouns now, and be known by a different name. And, well, I went from paying halfassed attention to listening carefully quick.

And … my son says “Okay,” and immediately starts arguing with her about whether “dude” is a gender-neutral term or not, and whether “dudette” is something that he should be using now, because that’s where his priorities lie, and went right back to playing Roblox.

Now, has he been great about not deadnaming his friend? No, he hasn’t– he’s pretty much sticking with “dude” most of the time, and I’ve definitely heard far more uses of the original name than the new one over the last couple of weeks. And there was a brief discussion between the two of them later about whether his friend could really be a girl or not, because girls can have babies and boys can’t. This led to the only parental intervention I’ve had to make in this entire process, where after they were done with the conversation I pulled him aside and explained the difference between gender and sex, to which he reacted by absorbing the information and shrugging and saying “Oh, okay.”

We were over at my parents’ house earlier this week and their family came up in conversation. My mom was aware of the parental transition but not the kid’s, and after a few minutes called my son into the room and asked him what he thought about it.

“Oh. Yeah, he changed genders. He’s a girl now.”

And that was the end of it. He was done talking.

So … okay, not great on pronouns, but he’s seven. It was as if his friend had changed favorite colors or something. In my son’s head, it’s no big deal.

This is the second time in a few weeks that my son has encountered the concept that people exist who are other than cis and straight, and just like the first time, he just rolled with it. And it’s not because either my (cis, straight) self or my wife’s (cis, straight) self are some sort of woke paragons of allyship. We aren’t. I’m pretty sure we’ve literally never had a direct discussion about sexual orientation with him. It’s because this isn’t actually all that complicated to explain to kids and because if kids see their parents treat something as normal they will too.

Some kids have two dads.

Some kids have two moms.

Sometimes men love men, and sometimes women love women, just like Mommy and Daddy love each other.

Sometimes people decide that they aren’t boys or girls anymore, and sometimes people decide that they’ve always been a boy or a girl and that it’s okay to let the world know that too.

“How do we explain this to our children?” is a cop-out, and it always has been. It’s just not that goddamn complicated. You just treat it like it is: normal.

Happy Pride Month, y’all.

(*) If at any point in this post I fuck up my phrasing, call me out on it and I’ll fix it.

On explaining gay people to your presumably straight kids

This just happened.

THE SCENE: We are watching the final episode of Season 2 of She-Ra. It is revealed that a character (no spoilers) has two dads.

THE BOY: Two dads?

MY WIFE: Yep.

ME: It happens.

THE BOY: Oh, okay.

End scene.

Seven years ago

I’ve been thinking about Trayvon a lot lately, actually, although I admit I wouldn’t have known today was the anniversary of his murder without the Internet’s help. One of my 8th graders transferred to another school today– there was some sort of a kerfluffle involving DCS that I’m not privy to the details of, and Mom pulled him in retaliation for being reported. And the thing is, every time I’ve ever talked about or to this kid, I’ve thought about two other young black men: Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice.

I like the kid, a lot. He’s a Goddamn mess in a lot of ways, but he wasn’t ever mean, and that gets you a hell of a long way with me.  In a building that has more fights in a typical week than anywhere else I’ve ever worked would see in a month, I never once knew him to be violent towards anyone. Which is good, because at 14 he’s 6’3″ and probably around 200-220 pounds. The last time I talked to him, he was complaining about the fact that he still couldn’t dunk a basketball. He was close, he said. It was coming, he was sure. But he wasn’t there yet.

Here’s the thing about him– I gotta call him something; let’s go with Ben, which was Trayvon’s middle name. Ben didn’t always realize quite how big he really was, in a way that you can really only apply to fourteen-year-old boys who have tripled in size in the last year of their lives. He was a physical, touchy sort of dude– he was one of those kids who needs to be in physical contact with anyone they’re talking to, which meant he was constantly putting a hand on my shoulder whenever he talked to me. Hell, he hugged me a few times. I’ve been teaching for sixteen years and I can count the number of male students who have hugged me without a damn good reason on one hand.

And, again, he’s huge. 6’3″. And heavy at that height. And while, again, I never knew him to be violent toward anyone, he had a lot of trouble keeping his mouth shut and — as I said, in a way specific to fourteen-year-old boys — absolutely could not keep his body under control, in a way that I know good and goddamn well intimidated several of our staff members. Did he mean to do it? No, I really don’t think he did. But the same type of behavior from Ben that would be laughed off from a smaller kid got him sent to the office. Because he was huge, and black, and this is America.

And over the course of the, I dunno, maybe six months I’ve known him, I’ve genuinely lost track of the number of times I clamped my mouth shut and didn’t say you can’t be like this because eventually someone is going to shoot you to him. Because a cop took two seconds before killing Tamir Rice in what I will go to my grave describing as a drive-by shooting. Tamir was big for his age too. Because Michael Brown was described in frankly impossible, inhuman terms by the racist cop who murdered him, and Michael was big for his age. And because Trayvon Martin got shot walking home from the corner store because he was a young black man wearing a hoodie at the wrong time.

And because murdering black people is legal in Florida if you’re willing to claim you wuz skurred, but that’s another conversation.

I emailed a couple of friends I have on the staff in his new building. I didn’t really get into the details, but I told them he was a kid I liked and asked them to keep an eye on him for me if they could. I just wish I had someone I could email and ask to protect the kid. Keep him from becoming a hashtag until he’s old enough to have some sense. Keep him from becoming a hashtag after that, too, because black men get gunned down in this country every single goddamn day and having sense isn’t gonna protect you from the likes of George Zimmerman or Darren fucking Wilson.

Just … keep him safe, somebody. Anybody. And fix this broken goddamned country so that we don’t have to worry about this shit any longer.

In which I relive someone else’s childhood

I’ve said this before, on more than one occasion: forget about what year you were born; the clearest delineating line between those of us commonly assigned Generation X and the Millennials is the answer to the question Did Pokémon play any role in your childhood? If no: Gen X. If yes: Millennial. Now, that falls apart when talking to people younger than the Millennials, but it’s a pretty damn good rule of thumb for the “currently middle-aged or approaching same” generations.

If you are seven, Pokémon has a good chance of being your life, especially if you are a seven-year-old boy. Which my son is. He has hundreds of Pokémon cards (he has never actually played the game, at least not correctly) a wide variety of Pokémon-themed clothing, Pokémon stuffed animals, Pokémon pajamas, books, you name it.

I don’t know shit about this stuff. I am 42. I think in a lot of ways I have more in common with Millennials than my own generation (I have never really identified with Gen X; if pushed, I’ll claim the Star Wars or Oregon Trail generations) but I am totally in the cold on this Pokémon thing. I think it started hitting when I was in high school, too old to notice it, but I’m not really sure. My younger brother was never into it either so I missed it by a good several years.

Point is, we bought Pokémon Let’s Go: Pikachu for the Switch yesterday and the whole goddamn family has been playing the game all day today. It was my idea; I am bound and determined to understand something about this weird-ass bullshit and if a roleplaying game can’t pull me into Pokémon on at least a superficial level then nothing can. I gotta say, other than the standard garbage control scheme that comes with every single Switch game (motion controls can die in a fire; I don’t ever want them again in anything I play, ever again) it’s actually a pretty good time; the boy was ecstatic about it, and the Switch has owned the TV all day. Under ordinary circumstances I might look askance upon the idea of literally spending the entire day playing video games; it’s snowy as hell outside and a three-day weekend and right now Daddy don’t care. I’m gonna find out what the fuck a Machamp is this weekend if it kills me, and I swear to God I just looked over and told him to go find some “ground types” to fight in a “gym” so he can earn a “badge.” I think I might have even used the terms correctly.

So, yeah. Weather outside is frightful and all that. What are y’all doing?