I was eating lunch with my boys yesterday when Logan hit me with a big one. I can never prepare myself for the topic bombs he drops and as he get older, and its happening with more and more frequency.
Oh! I thought for a minute. Here we go, then! I’m not about to sugar coat it. When my boy asks me an important question such as this one, I owe it to him to give him a truthful answer. He’s already asked me about three different “S” words…none of which was the one ending in “-EX”, however. And I’m OK with that. I kinda think I’m not ready to have that talk yet…
Also, I wish gay wasn’t even an issue that needed discussed or defined. I hope one day the movement will end up as a success story in the history books. Or a story with a happy ending or one that is a minor or non-issue. Kind of the way that civil rights or gender equality turned out.
I asked Logan where he heard the word and he told me he wasn’t quite sure, he had read it somewhere in one of his books. So, I went ahead and told him that one meaning for the word would be “happy” or “cheerful.” Which, I am fully aware was a sheepish move. I was skirting around the topic for a moment longer while I inconspicuously put together my answer for him.
“No, Mom.” He said. “That’s not the word I mean.”
“Is the word you’re talking about the one that describes a certain person or type of people?” I asked.
When he told me it was, I was glad to be on the same page with him as we moved further into our discussion.
So, here’s what I told him. I said, “You know how Mommy and Daddy met and fell in love and we are committed to loving and caring for each other forever? We are each other’s companion. Daddy makes me feel happy and safe and I make him feel happy and safe? Well, sometimes it happens that two women meet and fall in love with each other. Sometimes two men meet and fall in love with each other. And they set out to spend their lives together in the same way as we do.”
I explained that this was OK, that we believe in love and companionship and the happiness that accompanies it in whatever form it takes.
Feeling rather good about my straight forward answer, I asked my boy if what I had said made any sense?
And he sat there looking at me with the most sideways look I might’ve ever seen spread across his 10-year-old face.
“Um, what?” He said. “I thought it was a word that meant boring or dull.”
Ha! A similar thing happened with the “S” words! When I jumped the gun in thinking he meant something that he didn’t, actually. I smiled really big and then let out a small laugh. I wondered if I had shared a life lesson that didn’t need to be taught yet? I asked him to please try and remember where he had read the word, gay, and fill me in on the context of which he read it.
He told me it had been in his new Origami Yoda book. Some not-very-nice 6th-grade boys told a 7th-grade boy in a pink shirt on picture day that he “looked gay.”
I was glad that I had already spoken the words about what it meant to be gay to him, because the reference that Logan provided was a good segue into talking about how hurtful some words with multiple connotations can be if spoken from the wrong lips…and how name-calling is one of the worst weapons. For instance, “You throw like a girl. That idea is retarded. He looks gay in that shirt.”
I explained that some people use terms like these, or similar ones, in unkind ways to offend others. Besides some very obvious offensive words, I told my children (because Eli was sitting with us) that using words such as “gay” or “retarded” to hurt the feelings of someone else is particularly bad because they are offensive and hurtful to the true meaning of the word and who or what it refers to. For instance, even, going back to the example of throwing like a girl might offend me because I am a girl. Someone who uses the word in a derogatory way is implying that my gender is incompetent in sports.
We went on to discuss what it means to show acceptance, love and compassion for all people. I understand that even as I write this, I am aware of how my words might be received. There are many out there with whom I vehemently disagree with. I’ve heard the term before, “Love the haters.” Did Jesus say that? Well, probably, yes! Personally, I believe that what its all about is seeing everyone as the person they are, accepting them as such and if disagreement is an issue, then do it respectfully because everyone is entitled to their own, individual beliefs. And, truthfully, and with the word “respectfully” again, I have approached and then stepped away from my imaginary soapbox many times during the writing of this post. I suppose just then was the closest I came to hoisting myself up, with maybe even with one solid step up on it.
My boys and I talked about how making fun of others because of (misunderstood) differences is never OK. Besides, Chris and I have taught this value from the beginning with both our guys. There was one instance I remember last year, that Eli called a boy in his class, “weird,” and we nipped that in the bud immediately. I explained to him then, why that isn’t OK in a similar, age-appropriate, way. He understood.
Suddenly, during a lull in conversation, Logan became reflective a moment about the boy in his book who was made fun of. He was truly sad for the character when he described what a cool guy he is and wondered how those 6th-grade-boys could be so mean to him. Logan even said that the pink shirt that he pictured in his “mind movie” of the story looked really good!
Because of his feedback, I knew we hadn’t discussed too much, or delved too deep. Logan’s got a pretty mature brain up there and besides, he’s headed into fourth-grade. I’m certain that this conversation was a really good thing. And, as for Eli’s kindergarten-ears, he gleaned from our discussion the basic rule of extending love and kindness and not being hurtful by calling names or making fun of others.
Innocence is a fleeting luxury, my friends. I can only protect my boys for so long from the realization that mean people are out there who might call them names or make fun of their shirts. Sadly, they’ve both already discovered that reality on their own, and all too soon, I’m afraid. My hope is that through conversations like these, together we can continue to build within my boys a strong foundation that will teach them to be solid in their countenance and confident in the good people that they are and be able to let negative things roll off their backs and shine the light of love and kindness to everyone around them.