02 June 2007

You know my name

arm yourself
because no one else here
will save you

(The spouse says this should be called "The Sounds of Silence." Decide for yourself.)

I discovered at a young age that there is nothing like a show of power to make a bully back down. My best friend's younger brother J. was just such a bully. I don't remember how he was threatening me, but I remember my response.

"Don't make me hurt you."

We were both about 7. I'd never seen a boy backpedal so fast. The sense of power was overwhelming.

A year or so later, T. beat up my younger brother on the playground. T. was at least two years older than me, making him three years older than my brother. Nothing like an unfair fight to make my blood boil, and after school one day, I let T. know that he would not be bloodying my brother's nose again, or he'd have me to contend with. To say I was seething would be an understatement. When I am that angry, the words tend to flow off my tongue with the consistency of hot lava. T. did not bother my brother again.

Words can be a powerful weapon, and sometimes the threat of retribution, especially if it is only hinted at and not explicitly stated, is enough to stop violence in its tracks. And let's face it, I'm fortunate because I have the height and physique to back up the words if it really comes down to it.

Recently, I was in the position of chaperoning a group of 7th and 8th grade boys in the classroom that served as their dressing room during the school's musical. My placement in the room was a strategic move by the drama and music teachers: apparently most of these children were raised by hyenas, and so have no manners nor respect for anyone, including themselves. "I know you're a tough parent," said Ms. H., and it sounded a bit like a prayer.

The previous night, the miscreants had torn the classroom apart, writing obscenities on the whiteboard and then affixing them there with hairspray, messing up the overhead projector and the teachers' computers, yelling like the aforementioned hyenas, destroying school supplies. With paying customers sitting in the school auditorium. Their parents and family members.

When the door closed on me and 20 young teen boys as the show started, I clapped my hands and shouted, "Gentlemen!" Silence and 20 pairs of eyes, some of them startled. "Sit down, please, and all eyes front." Grumbling compliance. When I had their attention, I started.

"I was put in here with you tonight because I am the mean mom. Because you were misbehaving last night. Please don't make me be the mean mom. I do not want to embarrass my son by getting angry with you. I do not want to embarrass any of you by calling you out in front of your friends. I will do it if I have to. Do not put me in that position."

I expected at least one of them to issue a challenge, but it really didn't happen. It was a long evening, but with a few reminders, only one with a raised voice, we got through it without incident.

"Thank you," said the music teacher. "Thank you," said the administrator. "Thank you," said several of the boys.

I am not a perfect parent. I am impatient and sometimes dismissive. I am probably too restrictive. But I try to rule my house with a combination of high expectations, appropriate punishments, love and kindness. The expectations are given up front, so there is never any question of what is supposed to happen. My children, who are not perfect children and who come up with endless new ways to try my patience, know that I love them, and we play together and laugh together and have fun together. Their friends know that my house rules stand, everyone plays their part, and we are all cool when we spend time together.

But I am not their friend.

I am the Empress of the Universe, the Big Kahuna, Goddess of All She Sees and Hears.

I am Mom.

Go listen to some good music: "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell from the Casino Royale soundtrack.