The Stories we Tell

There is one absolutely awesome thing about being a parent, certainly there are many, but my absolute favorite is being able to scare my children via stories.  This may sound cruel, but it isn’t, because I can say with about 90% certainty that my sons will never fall into a lake, become Carnies, pick up hitchhikers, or wander out into traffic.  Mind you the boys are tweens and a teen, so things that I used to scare them away from are useless and the interesting part is they have realized that my stories (even when they are completely made up) are interesting.  They now know there is no such thing as a “swamp witch”, an evil creature that was said to lurk at the end of my parents long driveway, but they stayed away from the road and the snapping turtles throughout their youth.

Some of these stories really have no purpose other than in telling them, they create a legacy.  Stories live on.  For example, stories that end in “and this is why you should never camp by a river” or “that is why jumping on railway cars is a bad idea” have no moral, but they are fun to tell.  Of course, I have to construct an elaborate tale of the time I jumped on a railway car and ended up in Missouri where I was mistaken for a wanted criminal, who had escaped on a railway car from Mississippi.  I then had to stay in jail for days until the police sorted the whole thing out and my picture was in the paper in St. Louis and this is why you stay away from the railroad tracks and/or never ride on a train.

There is always some grain of truth to these stories, as I would not consider my life boring in the least.  I don’t tell them these tales because it makes my life seem interesting, I tell them because I can.  I have tried to write stories, but who am I, Aesop? Telling stories requires a certain type of gift to weave in truth and fiction and captivate your audience through inflection or other rhetorical devices you can only do with speech.  You must also be prepared for questions and demands for future stories…the latter inevitably leads to me saying something like “well after I picked up that second maniacal hitchhiker, I think I learned my lesson, wouldn’t you?”

Of course we can always tell stories that are 100% true, but what is the fun in that?  Actually I have told some of those, but only in dire times.  The story of being rufied by a female bartender and calling the National Guard in (and yes someone from the Guard did come to the bar I was at, but I forgot what I called them for…it remains a fuzzy picture of someone in uniform with weapons ready) has been told and my kids are more afraid of ending up doing something ridiculous than something bad happening to them.  The story ends with “and this is why you don’t drink….do you want to call the National Guard and embarrass yourself?” It remains a funny story to them and it actually isn’t funny really.  I simply chose to remember the more dramatic parts of my life (a theme) then an actual plot (everything else). There does remain a moral to that story and it is that you have to be careful who you trust and The Hangover was a funny movie, but that tiger could have eaten them…. “and this is why you never feed animals at the zoo…”

I seriously doubt other mothers do this.  The only thing even close this that I have ever seen is in the movie Big Fish, which admittedly makes me cry every time I watch it.  Ironically I also have a story to tell as to why it makes me cry that ends up with “and this is why you never fall in love with someone who is dating a princess”, although I don’t actually tell that story, because it is of no use to boys at all.  I have strived to be more elaborate in my stories as I have grown older and it was something that I remember, really one of the only things, about my Grandpa.  He told “tall tales” about catching alligators and armadillos although he lived nowhere near those kinds of animals.  I used to think it was a Southern trait, but I realize that isn’t the case, even though Big Fish might have a person think otherwise and my Grandpa being from the South and all…

The only problem with this is that people never know when you are telling the truth or weaving a fiction.  This isn’t the same thing as lying, of course, but it does effect the quality of time I have together with my kids and I have learned the hard way to tell these stories on neutral ground where they feel safe.  They will refuse to sit by a campfire and listen to a story, for example and they cringe when we go fishing and I have a Loch Ness monster story to tell.  But when the power goes out and we have nothing to do other than to talk to each other or we are in the car, I begin “Don’t ever think it is a good idea to become a rodeo clown…” and I just bet that they will remember every last detail even though I will forget it as soon as I have told it.  They can now, after all, describe the swamp witch in vivid detail and to my delight, I think that have added some extra details to the story…

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The Emotional Component of Intellectual Work

As a Feminist, I am acutely attuned to the emotions or lack thereof when dealing with others.  I have researched gender roles and am continuing this work, I may even begin a new blog on this topic, considering it is not about my more Civic Engagement type of work that I am planning to do.  Point being Civic Engagement= nice, calm, sort of “girly” and Research= not pretty, sort of “masculine”, not calm in the least.  Now I am not talking about research in the sense of circulating surveys and grinding out numbers and graphs, etc… I am talking about qualitative, on the “streets” work that led me to opening doors that many would prefer to keep closed and locked and preferably moved to Cuba.  Now this is not the stuff of superheroes, it is the stuff of Sociologists.  We are supposed to go to the “other side of the tracks”, to understand subcultures even the violent ones, we are just well…we should do it although not all us have taken this road.

So cue in the everyday life of someone (A Sociologist or other research person); we have an idea in our heads, but have realized we have no pen and paper to write down said ideas.  In comes a jovial, bouncing neighbor or fellow parent or anyone who leaves their job at the job.  I am sure we seem aloof and sometimes even rude when we are contemplating such things as terrorism or violent gangs and we are asked about a bake sale.  Similarly confusing to “normal” people are the times I have claimed to be “too busy” to do X or Y and I am spotted in the bleachers watching one of my sons doing athletic training, practicing, game playing, etc… and going to games is important, sure but going to practices and other events, no not even necessary.  To me it is however, as I watch their male coaches and trainers coach and train.  Their lack of emotion (except sometimes anger), use of metaphors such as “you are athletes, not horses!” when they are stomping around, and all around command of respect and space is something to learn from if you have a penchant for sports, leadership, and gender in no particular order or possibly one but not all.

One may have an erroneous idea that coaching sports (especially ones considered more violent and less aesthetic such as football and martial arts) requires no intellectual work and that it is all yelling and throwing chairs and such.  This is quite untrue as these sports are a science and an art, respectively and emotion is expected as a motivator; simply put it is a role and a necessary one.  Enter in female teacher and the opposite is expected by most Feminists; intellectual work is supposed to be all that is on display while emotions are not supposed to be added at all. Now not all Feminist teachers believe this to be true, but they do (rightly so) realize that women are viewed as being “overly emotional” i.e. hysterical or teary-eyed or more concerned with making people “happy” rather than successful.

Stereotypes do nothing positive for either men or women. But it is quite possible to use emotion as a woman in intellectual work, as well.  This emotion does not have to be of the “chair throwing” origin, but it is what I call “fake anger’…I see coaches using it quite a bit.  Now sometimes they are legitimately angry, but in the “pre preseason” as it is now for football; I see that fake anger used for two objectives (1) expect some actual anger later in the preseason and (2) I am trying to motivate you and being nice is not a motivator when push-ups, running, and other not fun activities are involved. So yes this can be translated to women in teaching or any leadership role sans the actual angry which is always counterproductive.  (A) fake anger is good in that it prepares students for the “real world” where people are not going to always be nice and (b) it motivates students to do some work that they may have to do to fulfill prereqs that they may have no interest in doing.  Of course, you have to still “coach” by praising outstanding performance and have some fun here and there.  But the point is when we think of women as emotional, the angry side is often looked at as a transient “she must have PMS this week” type of thing.  Consistency is key and I will attest to this in my classes and in my parenting of 3 boys as a single parent.

I can and will be nice, step out of bounds and I won’t be, it really is that simple.  When I feel legitimately angry, I pull out pen and paper and write, literally write “do not freak out on Jordan for being disruptive in class, count to 10…oh still mad at him? count to 20”, then I shoot “Jordan” a look and move on… same thing at home. Stay in the bounds of acceptable behavior and all will be well, step out and it will be a boot camp situation.  In hindsight, dealing with all the myriad issues of having my oldest son start high school and the middle son start junior high, has been a trial.  The oldest has went from being disruptive and failing to honor roll at this point, the middle one; well his angry outbursts ended when I got radical and took him to the ER, knowing the charge nurse was a fellow parent of kids his age.  After getting a counseling referral and telling him in no uncertain terms “if you want to go to counseling to have people feel sorry for you, you will never be an adult that can function on your own- stop feeling sorry for yourself”. It has worked.  He is also honor roll and doing great.

One final statement on this, Feminists stop, just STOP acting as if parenting is something that is taboo in your world.  Yes, I get it believe me, it sets up back 50 years if all we talk about is our kids, and swap recipes, and read People magazine.  But don’t deny the fact that if you can’t run a “tight ship” at home, don’t expect anyone to think you can run anything else.  Also some might assume that your husband (even if you hyphenated your name or kept your maiden name and the rest of us are confused as to whether you even believe in having children) is doing all the discipline at home then.  No, we can’t have it all, but we can do emotional and intellectual work simultaneously and be better people for it.