About nine years ago, I joined facebook. It was just because I had run into an old high school friend, and when I asked her about pictures of her family, she said “I put everything on facebook”. I was a little annoyed, but I thought what the heck, I’ll make a free account so I can see her family… and after looking at her pictures, I started adding those of my own, and connecting with more people. Some of those people I knew in my “real life” at the time, others were from high school years. Over time, I started being “friended” by people who were acquaintances of acquaintances.

As my list of “friends” grew, so did the drama on my facebook feed. Every national event led to a polarized discussion of who/what was at fault and what should be done about it. Every psychological hurt, social slight, and physical ailment of every “friend” was aired and turned into lengthy discussions of who/what was at fault and what should be done about it.

While I usually hear people gripe about facebook being too much about bragging and putting a false front of perfect family out there for everyone to see, the problem for me was more that facebook had become an ocean of outrage populated by rafts of whiners.

I spent so much of my time being outraged myself – at memes that were meant to be cute and witty but really pitted men and women against each other in the same old tired ways I’ve always been sick of, at “news” stories from politically extreme web sites on both ends of the spectrum, at people I had never met who called me stupid or sexist or a slut or a prude.

I spent too much time at this. Time that I could have spent reading, walking my dogs, talking with my sons, doing the dishes, stretching… So I quit. Gave 24 hours notice so people could ask for my email address and pulled the plug. And once I did that, I realized that it was more than just the outrage and waste of time – there was something else that had happened to me during my near decade on facebook.

I had fallen into the trap of thinking of my life as performance art for the amusement of others.

During the first 24 hours after quitting facebook, I had three different times where something happened in my life and my VERY FIRST thought was “ooh, I should post this on facebook” before realizing that I wasn’t going to do that…  and then I was left sort of hanging.  Like, wait a minute – if I’m not going to make a post, and thus no one is going to see it, and no one is going to “like” it or comment on it…  well, what’s going to happen with it?  This thing that happened – it’s just there in my life, and no one noticed but me, and…  well…  um…

What a weird way to think about one’s life.  I can think back to my younger years.  Things happened every day, every hour, every minute…  and there they just sort of stayed.  I remembered them.  I may have laughed out loud, or swore to myself, or had a brief moment of panic.  But then I just went on with my day.  I may have told the story to someone over dinner that night, or recounted it in my next phone call to my mother, or maybe it would come up in conversation at a party the next weekend.  Or maybe, sometimes, it would just basically go away, as moments do.  To be replaced by other moments.  Not documented, paraded in front of everyone, graded and assessed by friends and by friends of friends and by complete strangers.

Today things happened.  I had thoughts.  And you know what?  I’m not going to tell you what they all were!  I’m keeping a lot of them to myself.  Some of them I will tell my husband.  Most of them were just thoughts for my own entertainment while I was working.  I’m actually not interested in anyone else’s thoughts about those thoughts.  Wow.

And my children did some sweet things over the last 48 hours.  They said some funny stuff.  And they were occasionally jerks.  And we had some problems.  And we got through those problems, and they did sweet things again.  And I managed to deal with it all and be present with what was happening and today I managed to *not* think “hey, that would be a good facebook post!”

So it’s only been two days.  In a way it seems a little lonely, losing that connection to everyone.  In another way, it’s very freeing.  And somehow I feel sort of mysterious, like I’m flying under the radar, doing and thinking secret stuff in my own little world that hardly anyone sees.

Of course, here I am on my blog, which is publicly available to the entire world.  Feels different, though.  For one thing, I know that hardly anyone reads this – it’s more for myself to get my thoughts straight.  It’s not social media – there aren’t “like” buttons and I’m not expecting comments and sharing.  In the past, I’ve put some pretty controversial thoughts up here and it’s never caused any drama.  It’s really just one step up from writing stuff on a piece of paper and sticking it between my mattresses (a method I have used in the past).

This year my son is in third grade, and organized Physical Education class is a daily thing for his class.  I was surprised when he came home the second week of school and demonstrated “girl push ups”.  These kids are in third grade,  Puberty and the associated hormone-related bodily changes are far, far away.  I really do not think there is a significant difference in the strength of 8-year-old boys and girls.  I don’t even think “boy push ups” and “girl push ups” should be a thing in middle school or high school, for that matter.  I think everyone should try to do as many push ups (just push ups) as they can…  if someone can not do ANY push ups, then they should of course be given the option of doing “modified push ups” or “half push ups” until they get strong enough to do at least one regular push up.  I bet you anything there are some boys in third grade who can not do a push up, and there are some girls who can do a lot of them.  To name them based on the sexes is just stupid.  Push ups are not done with your penis, you know.

Starting in second grade, my son would come home and tell stories about girls hitting boys and laughingly saying “You can’t hit me back, because I’m a GIRL!”  On two separate occasions, it was a group of girls going around the playground at recess, hitting boys and laughing – my son said one boy cried.  These stories made me incredibly furious.  When my boy was finally able to give me a specific girl’s name, someone in his classroom who would hit him when the teacher was busy on the other side of the room and say “You can’t hit me back, because I’m a girl” – I sent an email to my son’s teacher and to the principal of the elementary school.  This resulted in my son and the girl being called out of class and talked to by the principal, and things between the two of them seem to have improved – they are in the same class this year, too, and so far there have been no problems.  Not between those two individuals, but there is still a culture of “girls can hit boys, but boys can’t hit girls”.

I find myself looking around these days and thinking “Has sexism gotten better since I was a girl?  Has it actually gotten WORSE?”  When I found out that my baby was male, I was kind of relieved, because I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with getting pissed off at people for treating my daughter like a fragile flower, speaking to her in baby talk when she was no longer a baby, and telling her that she couldn’t do things because she’s a girl.  Turns out that as a mother of boys, I am just as concerned with sexism as I would have been if they were girls.  And here’s why:

I don’t want my sons thinking that females are by nature physically and emotionally weak.  I am a strong woman – there are some men that I’m sure I could take in a fight, but my husband is not one of them.  My husband is a strong man – but there are some women out there who could kick his butt.  I think my sons understand this, as evidenced by the youngest’s confusion when he heard of “girl push ups” and didn’t understand why they weren’t doing the same thing.  Yes, there is on average a pretty big sexual dimorphism in adult human strength – but first of all, that’s AVERAGE, and second of all, how much of that might be caused by different expectations starting in early childhood?

I also don’t want my sons thinking that females are allowed to hit them, but they can’t hit back.  I have told my sons over and over that they are not allowed to hit someone for disagreeing with them, insulting them, teasing them, arguing with them, stealing from them, or irritating them.  The only time they are allowed to hit someone is in self defense because the other person is hitting them.  At the same time, I know damned well that if my son hits a girl WHO HIT HIM FIRST, he will get in more trouble than her.  This is plain wrong.  This stupid double standard is perpetuated in media, where women slap men all the time for saying something rude and the audience laughs, but if a man hits a woman the audience gasps in horror.

You know what you are likely to get when you tell boys that girls are physically and emotionally weak, and then you let girls hit them and don’t let the boys defend themselves?  I think you will get young men who think women are weak and who RESENT women.  You are setting up the next generation for domestic abuse problems.  You are creating males who may just be waiting for a time when no one is watching so they can finally get their revenge on “the weaker sex”.  My sweet, sweet little boy who tries so hard to be fair and good has actually said to me that he sometimes wants to hit a girl “just to prove that I can”.  I totally understand that, because when I was young (hell, still today) if someone said that I could not do something because I was a girl I would *immediately* want to do it to prove them wrong.  It breaks my heart that girls are being allowed to act in such a way that my boy has said that.  He is not a misogynist.  He is not a bully.  They are being the bullies, and they seem to think it’s cute, and they seem to be getting away with it.

Maybe I should tell my son to settle playground bullying by challenging the bullies to a push up contest?

I am just not an intellectual.  I am not an academic.  I went to college because my parents told me that I would since as early as I could remember – it was assumed – but I never really felt an interest in it.  I managed to bash my way through to a BS degree in Psychology, but never used that degree other than the fact that I know of at least one job that I would not have landed had I not gone to college.  I worked for a university for nearly 25 years, but always as support staff – different animal care and administrative assistant positions.  Right now, I’m a birdkeeper for a biological lab that develops and produces vaccines.  I am truly happiest when manual labor is a large part of my job, when I’m using my body until it sweats and puts on muscle, when I’m outside in the weather for at least part of the day, and when I’m doing something that has a sense of necessity to it (the animals MUST be fed, watered, and cleaned up after or they will get sick).  Unfortunately, it seems in this world that the more you sweat at a job, the less that job pays – unless you’re a top professional athlete, that is.

One thing I find particularly interesting is that back in high school, I got straight As and people seemed to assume that I was really “smart” and was going to be very successful in college.  Instead, I spent years on and off academic probation, dropped out after four years (still officially a sophomore at that point because I’d failed so many classes), and then went back part-time and took one class a year until I managed to scrape together a degree.  Not what anyone considers a successful time in college.

Then there’s my “career”, which has not been so much a career as a series of jobs.  Birdkeeper, from age 21 to 26.  Administrative assistant the next couple of years.  Then back to animal care (all kinds of research animals) for a few years.  From there to Editorial Assistant for a nutrition journal – this for over a decade.  Another administrative assistant job followed.  And now my birdkeeper position.  So maybe it’s been two careers taking turns.  But not exactly upward mobility – if you take cost of living into account, I don’t think my salary has changed very much since my first job at 21.  I’ve been okay, but no one would call it a thriving career.

And I remember people pointing me out in high school as so successful.  What happened?

This isn’t a post about what “successful” means – that’s a huge issue, and obviously it means lots of different things to lots of different people.  For the purposes of this post, people obviously meant that they thought I would do well in college and have an upwardly mobile career.

When I think back to my childhood, and that classic question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, the only answer that I remember giving was “I want to be a cowboy”.  People would say “You mean a cowgirl” and I’d say “No, I mean a cowboy” and I’d add in my head “What the hell is a cowgirl??”  And no, this post is also not about me being transgendered – I’ve always been fine with being female, but I still wanted to be a cowboy.  I wanted to ride horses, work outside, be active all day, sweat and be dirty and be tired at night, and have camaraderie with others who did the same.

I remember telling my dad once that maybe I could be a house painter like him.  It looked like satisfying work, making buildings pretty, and involved many of the things I liked – physical work, being outdoors, and seeing your work actually do something.  My dad’s response was “No daughter of mine is going to be a painter!”  I don’t think he was being sexist – I think he used “daughter” because that’s what I was to him.  I think he just wanted his kids to have something “better” than he did.

In high school, I came up with the idea of being a game warden.  But when I checked into the idea, I found that my nearly-blind right eye and nearsighted left eye put me out of the running for that career.

I volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center in high school, and I totally enjoyed that experience – but I guess I didn’t see that as going anywhere, and besides with my parents’ insistence that I go to college I didn’t really see how to pursue wildlife rehabilitation.  I was very shy and not good at networking – I would show up at the center and do whatever work needed doing, but I was lacking in the communication and inquiry skills that would have been needed to question people and research my options for turning those interests into a successful career.

I remember taking some sort of test in high school that was purported to measure your aptitudes and interests and suggest careers that might be appropriate for you…  the answer I remember getting was “electrician”.  In my mind, that was fixing toasters, and I just sort of went “Huh?”

So it was off to college, where I supposed I was to “find my passion”.  Instead I found that I hated going to class, studying, and taking tests.  I didn’t have much interest in a lot of the subject matter, and even subjects that I did find interesting I always felt like I was looking in from the outside somehow – like I wasn’t really “getting it”.  There was not a cowboy major, or a wildlife rehabilitation major – I took some Wildlife & Fisheries Biology courses, and some Animal Science, but that was chicken farming and computer modeling deer populations, and I was just so lost and confused and, well, just feeling like an outsider.  I didn’t connect with the other students – I made friends instead with people who had either graduated already or had not gone to college, who lived in or near the college town but were not part of the school at all.  I ended up spending more and more of my time working part-time jobs until I was spending far more time at work than on academic activities, and my school work pretty much fell apart.  I wandered from major to major, finally finishing up in Psychology because I just wanted to get a degree and be done, and looking at the courses required and what I had finished so far Psychology offered me the quickest route to my BS.

After I finally finished, I remember my dad asking me “So, are you a psychologist now?” and I said “Well, no, Dad.  I’m just someone with a Bachelor’s in Psychology.  I’d have to do a lot more schooling to actually be a psychologist.  I just have a job.”

Well, if college didn’t get me a specific career, at least it was supposed to get me out there getting life experiences, exploring different subjects, networking, and finding my path in the world, right?  It didn’t do much of that for me.  I suppose it did get me out in the world away from my parents, and for that I am grateful – I’m sure it was a better way for me to spread my wings than renting an apartment near my folks and just finding some job to pay the bills.  But why didn’t it help me find my passion?  With all the thousands of interesting people doing important things, with all the subjects to be investigated and all the possibilities for learning, why did I find it so uninspiring?  Couldn’t I have found SOMETHING that could have incorporated my natural interests and talents?  Am I really just a ditch-digger at heart?

I’ve decided that a lot of my confusion and disinterest in college was due to the education that I received prior to college.  My parents sent me to a private religious school from third grade through my junior year of high school.  My parents were not particularly religious, but they did not much like the public schools in our area and thought that I would get a more personal education in a private school.  Unfortunately, the school they sent me to was a pretty conservative Christian school – what they call a “Bible-based education”.

So I received a more “personal” education – smaller class size than the public school, teachers that took a personal interest.  But at what cost?  What did a “Bible-based education” actually mean?

It meant putting more stock in a book written by people who thought the Earth was flat and the sun moved around it than in the results obtained by modern scientists.

It meant learning to judge literature by how it reflected “Christian values”.

It meant that debate class focused on three issues:  abortion, homosexuality, and evolution.  And that the “debates” were rigged to make one side look like the only possible right answer – because The Bible.

It meant being rewarded for giving the “right” answer (according to the school’s ideology), not for thinking.

It meant actively shutting out questions that brought up contradictory viewpoints.

Shutting down free thought.

Stifling intellectual curiosity.

Brainwashing.

Spewing back the party line.

It meant that my straight As did not mean I was learning, but that I was a good little robot.

Enter college and the expectation that students can come up with ideas, put different ideas together in interesting ways, devise experiments, draw conclusions, ask good questions, self direct, and have basic intellectual curiosity.  I failed miserably.  I had not developed those traits at all.  I don’t think I even understood what people around me were doing.

But I loved to go to work.  I had developed the traits to be a good employee – follow instructions, work hard, be punctual, take pleasure in a job well done, get along okay with others, be honest, don’t be afraid to sweat.

Don’t get me wrong – all those traits are great, and I’m very glad I have them.  I like my job.  I’m proud of myself.  But sometimes I do wonder what I would have done if I had grown up learning the mental and psychological skills to really get the most out of a higher education.  If I had the mental/intellectual drive to match my work ethic, what could I have accomplished?

I want my kids to have both – to learn to work hard physically and be a great employee, and also to be fascinated with all the knowledge available in the world and be able to bring that knowledge together in novel and interesting ways.  To be able to think for themselves, be open to new ideas, be critical of what they read and hear, be critical of their own thoughts but never afraid to think them.  I hope that they have great intellectual curiosity which will lead them to seek and find a passion – hopefully one that will pay the bills, too.

Other parents like to tell me about the differences between girls and boys, and they like to insist that these differences are somehow innate.  “We treat them exactly the same – the boys are just different from the girls,” they say.  They tell me that I don’t understand, since I just have boys.

I am declaring shenanigans on that shit.

Before I had my son (when I was single and childless and therefore had no right to an opinion on such things), I could see the difference in how people treated boys and girls.  At the same party, I witnessed these two scenes within a half hour:

Scene 1 – Three little girls on those little toy cars that you sit on and push with your feet, rolling around on the wooden deck.  Two of the girls bumped into each other lightly with the cars, with big smiles on their faces, obviously thinking this was fun.  Not just one, but two women jumped up from their chairs, with alarmed looks on their faces and panicky voices.  “No, no.  No running into each other.  Play nice.  Are you okay?”  The girls went back to just rolling around, carefully not bumping each other.  The adult females had made it very clear that bumping little plastic cars into each other at about a tenth of a mile an hour could result in Horrific Bodily Injury and most likely instant DEATH.

Scene 2 (less than a half hour later, on the same deck at the same party) – Two little boys riding on the same toy cars crash into each other.  Not a single woman stops it, stands up, looks disapproving or frightened, or says a word to the boys.  One woman smiles at me and says “Boys!  What can you do?”

Well, not too long after that party, I met the man who is now my husband and his then six-year-old son…  and very soon after that, I popped out another son for us.  And for seven years now, I’ve listened to people tell me that I don’t understand girls because I just have boys (ignoring the fact that I grew up as a girl so I think I understand at least a little bit about at least some of them).

Our youngest son is now in second grade.  For about the last two years, he has kept his hair long.  This has led to many people mistaking him for a girl.  Which means that I’ve had the perfect opportunity to observe how people treat him, depending on which sex they think he is.

And it’s crazy.  People’s voices deepen significantly the moment they realize that he’s a boy.  They will say things like “What beautiful hair” and then literally APOLOGIZE when they realize he’s a boy.  They will look alarmed if he falls at the playground, and then just laugh it off when they realize he’s a boy.

The other night a woman sort of bumped into him a little in a crowded room and said “Oh!  I’m sorry, dear.”  Then she looked at him again, and then looked at me and said “Oops – I’m sorry.”  I said “Huh?  For what?” and she said “I called him ‘dear’ – I usually call boys ‘buddy’.”

Seriously, people don’t even know how to interact with a child unless they can first determine the child’s sex.  They are lost and confused, and it’s not simply a pronoun problem.  They don’t know whether to use that silly little high-pitched voice and say things like “sweetheart” and “pretty” and compliment his shoes, or to belt out “Hey, there, little buddy!” and high-five him and ask what his favorite sport is.

And still people insist that they don’t treat the sexes any differently.

Not only do people use different words, actions, and vocal tones when speaking to a child they think is a boy and one they think is a girl…  they apply different rules to boys and girls.  DIFFERENT RULES.  Isn’t that sexism?  Isn’t that something that we enlightened 21st century Americans are supposed to be against?

Alex came home from school today and said that there was a herd (his word) of girls running around the playground today *hitting* boys and laughing and saying “Girls can hit boys, but YOU CAN’T HIT US BACK!  Ha, ha!”  He said a bunch of the boys ducked and ran away, and one boy just curled up in a ball on the ground.

What the holy hell?!?

Hey.  I am a female.  I used to be a girl, you know.  It was 40 years ago, and I remember that some people tried to tell me that I couldn’t do certain things because I was a girl.  You know what?  Being told that I couldn’t do something made me more determined than ever to DO IT, and to do it WELL.

So I completely understand Alex’s response to the herd of girls today.  He told me that he really wants to hit one of the girls, just to show them that he CAN.  Of course, I told him not to hit anyone at school unless he is really in danger.  But I also told him that of course he CAN hit a girl…  however because of sexism he would probably get in more trouble than if he hit a boy.  Because people think that girls are weaker than boys.

Heck, even *I* want to go hang out at the school at lunchtime, watch for these girls and their totally inappropriate behavior, and then crack their heads together.  I told Alex that I want to do that.  Wanting to do that is completely understandable.

And then Alex and I sang a few lines adapted from the very first song he ever learned –

“You can’t always do what you wa-a-ant,

You can’t always hit who you wa-a-ant”

This ridiculous society-endorsed (and enforced!) sexual dimorphism leads to so much trouble.  I believe it leads girls to think they are weak but at the same time strangely protected, to think their power lies in passive-aggressive manipulation and sexuality, and to think that their looks are more important than their usefulness.

And today it led an otherwise generally sweet little boy to want to punch girls in the face.

Can we just treat each other like decent human beings, whatever dangly or foldy bits we have between our legs, please?

I hear it from parents and teachers every day.

“Say you’re sorry.”

It comes flying out of the nearest adult’s mouth every time some kid stomps on someone’s toes, pushes a boy in line for the drinking fountain, knocks over a classmate’s prized Lego structure, or spills milk in her brother’s plate of pancakes.

By the time most kids are in second or third grade, it has been drilled into them and apologizing has become a reflex reaction to every accidental or purposeful injury to another’s physical or mental feelings.

Bump – “Sorry!”

Stomp – “Sorry!”

Smack – “Sorry!”

Insult – “Sorry!”

Sometimes I see parents and teachers attempting to go past the one-word apology.  They try to instill a more complex response – one I recently saw in written form was something like:  “I am sorry that I [blank].  I know it made you feel [blank].  Next time I will [blank] instead.”  Good try.  But I’m still not buying it.

It has been my experience that when you have hurt someone, physically or emotionally, there is only one thing that will make it right between you and that person.  And that one thing is this:

DON’T DO IT AGAIN.

I believe this so strongly that I say it in capital letters to my son whenever he does something hurtful, to himself or someone else, whether accidentally or on purpose.

“Alex…  DON’T DO THAT AGAIN.”

Because all the other parts of even the most sincere and complex apology don’t really fix the problem.  When someone says they are sorry, even with a lot of modern psychobabble attached, let’s face it – you do not feel okay about it until time enough has passed that you know that they are honestly trying to change their behavior.  The words mean nothing except that they have learned to apologize.  And I don’t care about that when I’ve been hurt – I care only that it not happen again.

I remember when my son was four and I was mad at him for something and he actually said “But Mom!  I said I’m sorry!”, as though that should have fixed everything and my mood should have instantly been sunshine and roses again.  I had to explain to him that I would be mad until I wasn’t mad anymore, and I didn’t know how long that would be, and that his best option was to stop talking about it, let me have some space, and (say it with me, folks) DON’T DO IT AGAIN.

I believe this so strongly that I probably upset people when they expect an apology from me and instead get “I won’t do that again.”  People have been trained to expect the apology.  They want you to actually say the words “I’m sorry”.  Sometimes they want you to go into detail about how bad you feel.  They want you to make appeasement gestures like a bonobo chimp.  They may want you to bring them flowers or a card.  But when all of that is said and done, they are still not going to be comfortable until time has gone by – time without you repeating your offense.  Maybe a short time for a small offense (bumping someone in line), probably a very long time for a huge offense (an extramarital affair).

Not only do I not want my son thinking that “sorry” is a magic word that gets him off the hook…  I also don’t want him to think that it’s a magic word that lets other people off the hook.  If someone does something to him, I don’t want him turning around and trusting that person the next minute because he heard the word “sorry”.  I’d rather he was a little skeptical and careful about that person for a while.

When I see people bringing flowers (or a six pack of beer) to someone as an apology, I have to wonder:  Does the person being apologized to actually think all is instantly well?  Has that person been brainwashed by the “apology cult” into thinking the flowers make everything okay?  If so, that’s a sad thing indeed.  If not – if the person being given the flowers is still going to wait whatever time is necessary for the hurt to heal – then what are the flowers for?  I suspect they are a power play – “Look!  I made him give me flowers!  I am important and I have power!”  Or maybe the person just really likes flowers and figures “This whole thing is going to take time to blow over, but I might as well get some flowers in the meantime.”  It’s become a joke – when a man buys flowers for a woman and it’s not her birthday, Valentine’s Day, or their anniversary, how often does he get asked “What did you do?”  It’s a disingenuous power play, disguised as a healing act.

I don’t want my son to grow into a man thinking that insults and injuries to his person by a friend or romantic partner can be instantly healed with a couple of words and a token gift.  I also don’t want him to think that forgiveness is owed to him in exchange for a bouquet, a ring, or a pretty speech.

I guess the best immediate response to use and to teach my son would be “I’m sorry, I won’t do that again”, since it conforms to the social expectation of the other person while reminding him of what is truly important…  changing his actions.

On the other hand, if you truly do plan on doing it again, save everyone time and don’t bother apologizing – instead ask the person if they are willing to tolerate your behavior, and if the answer is “no”, write that relationship off and move on, because it’s not going to work out.

My son, just turned seven last week, came to me yesterday asking “Is it true that in the old days people would make pens from bird feathers?” When I told him that it was, he immediately wanted to run out to the chicken coop and collect a feather so he could do it. I told him we’d have to do a little research first, to learn how to do it.

Thinking about it today, I realized that the next conversation we have about it will go something like this:

Do we want to make ink, too?
How about what we will write on? Do we want to make paper, or write on a hide?
Do we want to prepare that hide ourselves? Does that mean we have to skin the animal ourselves, too? Do we have to make the knife that we use to skin the animal? Do we raise the animal or hunt the animal ourselves?

And thus I will lead my son down the rabbithole of authenticity.

He has seen me slowly sink down that rabbithole from time to time.  I have done it to some extent with cooking, as my definition of “from scratch” has changed.  Cooking from scratch can mean buying eggs, flour, milk, baking soda, and sugar and making a cake.  Or it can mean getting eggs from your chickens, grinding grain into flour, milking a cow or goat, harvesting honey…  you see where this is going.  I have chickens for the eggs and I have started grinding wheat berries into flour.  But I live in town where I can’t have a rooster so I have to buy my chicks from a hatchery.  I purchase commercial layer pellets to feed my chickens (and supplement that with kitchen scraps).  I buy the wheat berries from the bulk bin of a local store rather than growing the wheat.  Maybe those things will change when we have land someday.  And then my definition of “from scratch” can change as well.  I did prepare one meal last summer that involved killing a chicken in the morning, digging up potatoes and carrots, chopping garlic and rosemary grown in our yard, and cooking it all in a solar oven.

Similarly with my weaving hobby.  I used to buy yarn and weave on a store-bought loom.  Now I weave on a warp-weighted loom that my husband made using hand tools in our shop.  I have worked my way slowly backward toward the sheep – first purchasing yarn, then purchasing roving to spin on a homemade spindle, then purchasing washed fleece and preparing it myself for spinning.  Living where we do, with a small yard and lots of neighbors, I can not back up any more in the process – washing raw fleece is a stinky, space-intensive process and will have to wait until we have land.

So anyway, it will be interesting to see where my son wants to go from his simple question about quill pens.  It turns out that his father has a hide from a deer that he shot and skinned, and he also has some of the necessary materials for making different kinds of ink.  This could turn into little Alex’s first Arts & Sciences entry at a local Society for Creative Anachronism event.

And why is this important for my son’s life?  Thinking about this project today, I realized that it was a good introduction into the kinds of projects one might get involved in with the Boy Scouts.  I used to have a negative reaction to the idea of my son in Boy Scouts, simply because of the religious-ness of the organization.  But that is changing slowly with time, and also I’m sure the religious aspects of the Scouts vary depending on where you are in the country – as my son went to preschool and attends after school care at the local YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) and there has been no religious teaching there, but I have been told that in other places there is.  My son wants to be a game warden.  He’s been quite adamant about this for about a year and a half now.  His older half-brother told him that a good way to prepare for being a game warden would be to join the Scouts.  He said that if you can get to be an Eagle Scout, it will really help you get your foot in the door as a game warden, because you will have life skills and character references and a network of support.

I was very impressed to hear a 13-year-old giving this advice to his 6-year-old brother.  And I realized that he’s probably quite right.  It’s never too early to think about your future, and not in the overly-simplified “stay in school” and “go to college” way…  those things are good, but there is so much more to becoming a well-rounded and successful person than just staying in school and obtaining a Bachelor’s degree.  Things like thinking creatively, being curious, being willing to sweat and deal with discomfort and dirt and stench to accomplish a goal, looking at things from other than a modern-day California perspective, taking pride in personal accomplishments, taking pleasure in basic physical activities, and having the simple understanding that “things are made from things” and not just sprouted out of the Dollar Store bins.

Good gracious, how did a question about a quill pen lead to all this?

Stop comparing yourself to the weak, the mean, the selfish, the needy, the drama queens.  Don’t be jealous of them because people give them attention, assistance, forgiveness, comfort, and emotional crutches.  When someone expects something good of you, don’t ever look around and say “but HE doesn’t have to do that!”, pointing at someone who you see as getting away with what you wish you could get away with.

It starts early in life, this response of:

  • “How come I have to do this?  He’s not doing it!”
  • “But Mom, she doesn’t have to eat her vegetables!”
  • “I picked up more toys than he did – it’s not FAIR!”

And so often it continues into adulthood, becoming:

  • “She is always late to work, so there’s no reason I should be on time.”
  • “Some people cheat on their spouses all the time, so why should I be expected to be perfect?”
  • “But you help him, so why do you expect me to be able to do it myself?”

Yes, there are some people who need help with basic things.  Yes, a lot of people are jerks to their partners.  Yes, a lot of people are pretty poor employees.  What does that have to do with you?  Why does it make you want to be less than your best?  Do you actually WANT to be treated as though you are weak and incapable?  Is the release of responsibility worth the decrease in self-respect?

Look up. Strive to be like the strong, the kind, the humble, the giving, the independent, the calmly confident.

It might take some looking to find these people.  They are probably just quietly getting things done, not flailing about, not complaining about how hard everything is, not voicing their drama in public, not demanding attention.

They are not the squeaky wheels.  They are the strong frame of the cart.  They are the grease that keeps everything turning.  They are the people clearing the large stones from the road ahead.  And they may be too busy to talk about it a lot – so you’ll probably have to look outside of Facebook.

Don’t compare yourself downhill.  Compare yourself uphill, if that”s where you want to get.  And I’m not talking “downhill” and “uphill” in terms of society’s view of “success” – money and power.  There are plenty of people with money and power who are not worth emulating – who actually are allowed to be weak and selfish and mean because of their money.  I am using “uphill” and “downhill”  as metaphors for a measure of self-respect, competence, independence, happiness, trustworthiness, and responsibility.

So next time someone says or implies that he or she expects more of you, instead of looking around and finding someone to make you look better, look around for someone to serve as an example of how to be better.

Actually, look for those good examples all the time, and emulate them.  You don’t have to wait until the next time someone is disappointed in you.