2021 – Chapter Eight: Teaching Sportsmanship, Campfires, and Smashing the Patriarchy to My Six-Year-Old

Raising a child is a full time job, and I have three. There are no breaks when they’re young, even when they’re asleep, and you literally never know what is going to happen one moment to the next. You have to stay super flexible and roll with the literal and figurative punches (for the record, they almost always go the nuts). I feel for the parents who are regimented, super organized and your “Type-A” personalities because children will take that lifestyle and break it across their ticklish, scuffed little knees. If you don’t break, it’s a constant battle. I feel bad for those children; they probably grow up to be sociopaths or stockbrokers. But I repeat myself.

Take this for example: just yesterday we were preparing to have guests over for a campfire and my youngest children’s job was to clean out our sunroom. When we moved to this current house two years ago we decided it was going to be our children’s play area to keep the unrelenting creep of their toys from taking over the entire house like it had before. It’s like ivy: sure it looks cute and harmless and it grows slowly, but before you know it it’s overrun your house, eating away the foundations and you find yourself pulling it out of every crack and crevice. And I mean everywhere. My kids once sent a collection of cars, Lego pieces and I think a random sock in my wife’s work bag for her to play with. Anyway, they were tasked with weeding their garden of joy and were none to pleased with it. Elaina, my youngest, came up to me and looked at me with these eyes that I thought said, ‘I have a problem and it’s cleaning.’ Instead, she opened up a several thousand year old can of worms.

“Why does all the words have “Man” in them? Like “MANkind”, or “PoliceMAN”, or “HISstory?” And as she said it she looked like a tired woman who’s been fighting the system since Phyllis Schlafly first put pen to paper.

Now, at this point I could have taken the easy way out, but if you know me or have read almost anything else I wrote, you know that’s not what happened. So I explained that for pretty much all of human history (there it is), men have been in control because basically once we started to make civilizations, we started fighting with others and men are typically the fighters, so we assumed control and never let go for the last few thousand years. And that since men have been in charge, we made the words and the laws and most of them revolved around men. She looked utterly defeated, her shoulders sagged and dramatically trudged away.

For a moment, I felt bad for her. I thought I had crushed some innocent part of her that will never be reclaimed. Then I looked up, saw she threw a blanket around her shoulders and put a toy crown on her head and I knew she’d be fine. I continued on my way and foolishly thought it was done. You would think I’d know better, but, ya know, Stupid Optimism.

A few hours later, as I was preparing the fire, Elaina comes back and sits down with a huff. “What’s wrong?” I said. She looked at me, with tears in her eyes, and said, “Every time we play, Sam never lets me win anymore.” They had been kicking a soccer ball around and I guess he was not playing down to his younger sister. His younger sister who gloats every time she wins or scores a point or imagines she does. Like when she thinks she scores a good burn on her brother, who bears the brunt of most of her machinations. Honestly, she’s terrible. I was teaching her to play chess a few weeks ago and me being the good parent I am, gave her suggestions and helped her win. You would have thought she had beaten the Grand Master in a hard fought tournament. She even did a victory dance!

So I looked at my doe-eyed daughter and told her that maybe people would be more willing to let her win if she didn’t act like a such a bad sport. I told her that she didn’t have to like losing, but that she needed to learn to accept it because that’s life and if she didn’t play because she can’t win, she won’t play a lot. It’s how we learn, from our losses and our mistakes. She countered with, “Well, why can’t it be a tie, then we both win?” I told her that wasn’t life either. Mostly one side will win and not the other. Then Sam came over and I explained how he also needs to encourage her by not letting her win, but also not blowing her out of the water either. She needs a challenge and the hope of winning. That ties aren’t how things work normally. Oh, how that came back to bite me.

Fast forward to the campfire, the kids are running around playing, we’re drinking beer and wine, life is good. Then I see the girls chasing the boys in a good natured romp. A few minutes later, Sam comes up to me and says, “Why did you have to tell her about the Patriarchy? She and Christabel are chasing us with the guns yelling ‘MATRIARCHY!'”

After laughing for a bit, we bring the girls over and ask Elaina what was going on and how about we we have it so both people are in control. She grimly looks at me and says, “You mean like a tie? I thought that doesn’t work. How about we just take control for awhile first.” No matter what we said about egalitarianism, or how equality for all doesn’t mean the group that was oppressed takes control, she couldn’t not be swayed. She grabbed her friend and went back to chasing down the boys like the lioness she is going to be.

Seems when she hears “Smash the Patriarchy,” she’s taken it quite literally. Heaven help us, but I think we’ve got this parenting thing down.

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