Why I’ll Never Say “Boys Will Be Boys…”

boys-will-be-boys-03In my newsfeed recently I have seen articles about why women shouldn’t wear leggings or yoga pants, both satirical and not, and others about fraternity culture. These articles have focused on expectations, and some of the non-satirical ones, have suggested that “men will be men” and that women should not expect men to control themselves or act with propriety. In short, the premise is that because men cannot be expected to act a certain way, women should change their actions.

I am not writing about yoga pants, but I am interested in expectations. Because to me, “boys will be boys” is often a younger version of the same thing. I will acknowledge that, with most things, there is a continuum to this, but let me just say I’ve never heard “boys will be boys” used to describe a male child helping his family clean up after dinner or doing his homework. I instead hear it used when a male child disobeys, plays rough, or acts out in class. Which translates to me as an oblique way of saying, “this child has a tendency toward disobedience, and we’ve not figured out how (or have stopped trying) to discipline him for it.” So in many ways they are words of defeat or a cry for help. Because the thing is, don’t all children have a tendency to disobey to some degree to another?

Now granted, I was that child where you could say, “I’m disappointed in you” and I would feel guilty for days.  I understand all children are different, but  I’m suggesting that what shouldn’t differ from child to child is our expectations for them to live within healthy boundaries. It’s again about expectations.

You see, research into expectations shows some really interesting things. Our expectations about a child actually effect that child’s actions. Research in the 1970s led by Ray Rist showed that teachers expectations of their pupils, from past reports, meeting their parents, how they dressed, but not any test of their academic performance, affected how well they thought those students would do in school. Which in turn affected how they interacted with those students. In summary, teachers’ created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the students they thought wouldn’t do well, regardless of intelligence, didn’t do as well. Studies of expectations have even been shown to have an effect on rats. A man named Robert Rosenthal did a study where he went into his lab and labeled some cages of rats as smart rats and some as dumb rats.  In fact, they were all just rats. Then his students ran their rats through mazes and tasks. The results seemed almost crazy in that the “smart” rats did almost twice as well as the “dumb” rats, even though they were all just rats. It turned out that the students’ expectations affected how they interacted with the rats in all sorts of small ways.  They touched the rat more gently, felt more warmly toward the rat, and in turn, the rat preformed better.

Now I’m not trying to compare children to lab rats. I just think that this study does a fantastic job of pointing out how our expectations come through in small, almost unperceivable actions, and how those actions in turn shape our overall behavior.

So, back to boys being boys. There are behaviors that society has come to expect from boys as ‘natural’ without thinking about how we as parents, caregivers, teachers, etc. might be reinforcing said behavior. If, when a girl pushes another little girl she is disciplined, but when a little boy pushes another little boy it gets shrugged off as just being a boy, we are reinforcing that stereotype.  This is undervaluing how boys can behave with boundaries and good discipline. If our expectations can shape our interactions with children, then I would hope that my expectations would be setting up both boy and girl children for success, problem solving skills, and understanding good boundaries.

It should be “children will be children.” Children will be children means yeah, they’re going to push boundaries, test caregivers, learn about their environment sometimes in unsafe or unhelpful ways.  That’s when we as caregivers can choose to step in to guide and teach, not step back to give up or shrug it off. Children will be children means that both boys and girls need play and movement and outdoor air. Not just boys get dirty and not just boys test the limits of their caregivers’ knowledge and patience.

I think my parting thought is this – what expectations do you have for yourself as a parent or caregiver? Is “boys will be boys” covering for feeling like you don’t have a mastery of disciplining your child or don’t know what to do when he disobeys? In which case, I might suggest that you think about the inner conversations you have about how capable you are as a mom, dad, or caregiver. So instead of saying “boys will be boys” what if we build a safe community to try discipline and boundaries even when it can look messy from the outside. What if we ask for help and suggestions while realizing that doesn’t make you less capable as a parent. It means you’re using your resources. Because if children will be children, I have also seen that parents will be parents — who want what’s best for their children, and don’t want to have low expectations, but sometimes run out of ideas or energy and wonder if their child can actually change. So my challenge might be, instead of saying “boys will be boys” to have the courage and the faith in yourself as a parent and in your child as a being full of potential, to try something new or ask for help, or at least just state the honesty of the situation that this is behavior y’all are working on, knowing that you, and they, have the potential for growth and change.

We Come ‘Round Right

free-spirit-18x24-smjpg-21I had a recoup day yesterday after what felt like a crazy but wonderful week. We had gotten stuck on a trip to Kentucky and stayed there an extra day and then spent the weekend getting ready for a wedding shower/party for great friends, all of which were good things, but I got to the end of the weekend and it felt like all the pieces were moving, and I couldn’t pin them down. Add in an on call Sunday and recoup day on Monday was much needed. After a morning nap, I took on cleaning out the fridge and the pantry, washing all the sheets and towels, and generally trying to feel re-settled. I was enjoying myself so much I began to think that maybe just being a stay at home person (not mother or even pet care tender at present) for the next bit would be great. I could order all the things. I could put everything in its place. I realized, even in saying this, that I would be bored out of my mind by day three when everything was organized, and I didn’t do enough to mess it up again. We create messes through living and doing in a space. To not make a mess means to not inhabit that space.

I think my desires for my life and vocation are frequently the same. I want to get all the pieces put in the right place and the right time and leave them there. I forgot that it is as I learn and do that I better understand my call and vocation, where my nest best place is to serve God and neighbor. The children’s song “Simple Gifts” states “To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.” Sometimes we can only know the ‘right place’ by having been in the ‘wrong’ or ‘not as right’ place. Sometimes we rediscover this moment’s right place over and over again through the movement of the place. Sometimes we fight our next right place but end up turning and turning and always ending up back there no matter how hard we try.

This adventure called life is messy. To create anything — a home, a relationship, a vocation — takes moving around the pieces, seeing where they fit and can be used and where they don’t. While the turning often makes me dizzy or wish that I could stop and be still and settled, I am coming to believe it doesn’t work like that. Even within settled places – a job, a marriage, a relationship, a faith – there will need to be room for movement. The God of Scripture is one of a living Word – there is still movement, still rustling of the Holy Spirit between the pages and within our hearts and lives. There is movement in marriage and we take turns, sometimes with cleaning, and sometimes with choices that benefit one’s job or dreams over the other, and next time it will be the other way. Even among friends, we turn to continue to fit as we grow together, sometimes from classmates to working folks in different places, sometimes from single folks to married folks to people with children. This turning and turning sometimes turns us closer to each other and sometimes farther away, but if we can turn together, than those are the relationships that are able to last, and it is not mine to hold all the pieces still.

I don’t know about you, but I often want to be in the ‘right’ place, with things also in their corresponding ‘right’ places, but as soon as I forget I am reminded, that it is the movement of the Holy Spirit that nudges me to turn, to create mess and to tidy it up again, to move and to grow in vocation and relationship and that even when I feel like my world is unstable, I have not gone too far, I have a firm foundation upon which to turn and as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” or as it’s been in my head today – “Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

Ash Wednesday in Two Hands

ashI had been looking forward to Ash Wednesday and getting to participate in the imposition of ashes for the first time. I first assisted with the chapel service which felt fairly familiar and then went to offer ashes to patients, families, and staff on the floors I work on. This is where the experience was a little different. If you ever want to feel painfully redundant, try reminding people who work at a children’s hospital that life is fragile – then trying wearing a cross of ashes on your forehead while standing in a trauma room. It was as if my very presence screamed out the truth that we so often try to not think about – life is fragile – from dust you came and to dust you shall return.

I feel as if my life as a chaplain outside of the hospital frequently serves that purpose. I am the individual in social gatherings whose job you don’t want to inquire after because I might say something sad or something that reminds you that life is fragile and that that fragility could affect you and your loved ones. Instead people just stick with, “you must love your job, just love it, it must be so rewarding” plus a few “I could never do that’s” thrown in for good measure. It is as if my job inside the hospital is to bring comfort and yet outside the hospital I tend to make people uncomfortable and not in a way that’s generally appreciated.

This was the way I was thinking about the imposition of ashes when I went to one of my floors. A family I have been following for five months asked me to come and put ashes on their foreheads. I started with the siblings of the patient first, and I truly wish I had thought of something wiser or more creative to say, but I didn’t so instead, by the time I got to the patient, I looked her in the eyes, made the sign of the cross on her forehead and said “remember, from dust you came and to dust you shall return… and you are beloved of God.” I somehow managed not to cry, but when I made it back down to my desk I texted my mom, “I am in the deep end of Ash Wednesday!?!” It is one thing to remind people of their mortality in church, where many feel safely removed, it is quite another to look into the eye of a child who has already had two bone marrow transplants.

My mom texted me back and said, “remember what the rabbis said, you are to hold in one hand that from dust you came and to dust you shall return and in the other, that even for you, the world was created.” I think many times in Lent, or just in life, we forget that balance both for ourselves and for others. It is often too easy to focus on one and neglect the other. As I looked at that little girl’s face I thought about how fragile we are and how “dusty” life is, but I also thought about how majestic life is as well. How there is holiness in little moments, and how even people we barely know are precious parts of God’s creation.

This lent, I pray we hold onto both ideas, that we honor the fragility of life and do not take it for granted, that every healthy baby born, every yearly well visit is a reason for celebration as if the world could have turned on it, and at the same time, that we take in the majesty of creation, and that we are both a small and magnificently large part of it. That we allow ourselves to be both uncomfortable and to honor the fragility and also to be in awe – which can be uncomfortable too – both require courage. As my favorite quote from the book Gilead puts it, “I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”

Here’s to a dusty, uncomfortable, majestic, awe-filled Lenten season…

Ordering Chaos (or just my closets)

IMG_1246I have always been fine with a certain amount of chaos. I grew up in a menagerie that included, at one point or another, everything from quail in my bathroom to a baby goat between our beds — I have even described said menagerie as ‘organized chaos.’ And I didn’t like my ability to be unstructured, I always wanted to be one of those people who was more ordered — One who kept to a strict schedule and say studied each subject for 15 minutes a day or made my bed each morning, but I wasn’t. Apparently, I just hadn’t hit the correct level of chaos yet…

For those who read my last post about New Years Goals, you know that I was beginning to feel like this CPE residency was running my life. Between never having the same schedule each week to leaving for on call and return 24-28 hours later to having schedule and assignment changes every time I turned around, the program in itself is chaotic. This is even before you add in the actual on call shift where you can be paged three places at the same time, have simultaneously bereavement situations on different units, and then get paged to a trauma in the ED. This was finally a level of chaos that I could no longer absorb, and I responded by adding more structure than my life has probably had since I was a toddler.

I implemented a cleaning schedule and have a planner that lets you plan by the half hour (which is a hilarious idea at a hospital, so I leave work hours blank). But you know what I’ve discovered is even more cathartic? Reorganizing closets. Seriously, it has become my post on call favorite activity. There’s something about taking all the things onto the floor, figuring out what is needed and what isn’t and then trying to fit it back into the closet in an organized manner (did I mention I have terrible spacial reasoning?). It doesn’t take a psychologist to guess some of the symbolism behind this activity, and it hasn’t been lost on me that I am seeking out order in areas of my life that I can control.

There is only one problem though — we live in a relatively small duplex, and I reorganized all of the closets (except my husband’s) within the interim period. Now I’m going into unit 2, and I have no more closets to take my grief, anger, confusion, etc out on after on call. But, I had quite a thought the other day which may soften the blow. I was thinking of the creation account in Genesis 1where it says that “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” — that word for wind is also the word for breath or spirit — ruach — and then God created light. The breath or spirit of God swept across the chaos and created out of it. I like that. I need that.

You see, there aren’t enough closets to sort out the grief that comes from working at a children’s hospital, there really aren’t enough for just the chaos that comes with being human. I could go so far as to alphabetize every part of my house from books to DVDs to spice jars, and I would still have nightmares after some nights on call, and I’d still have knots in my soul as I work though what it is to be human in a fallen world. And that’s when I especially need the breath of the Holy Spirit to blow across my soul to transform chaos into whatever it needs to become — maybe not always order, because creation itself is not always order — maybe questions, maybe righteous anger, maybe holy imagination, maybe something I don’t even know to ask for…

Now I will still keep organizing things because it keeps me busy and helps me not hold onto too much stuff, but maybe with less urgency. Because I know that I cannot reorder the chaos in the world nor in my heart on my own, and each and every day it is as if the world is created anew, when the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, can sweep across our hearts and world and bring forth light out of darkness.