Feeling Sorry

When people are married, by default the spouse is usually the birthday coordinator.  A child might assume the role later on.  I don’t have a spouse, and my kids are too busy being kids to think of birthdays that aren’t their own.  They didn’t get me anything.  They didn’t bake a cake.  I don’t have a birthday coordinator.  (They meant to do something, they really did, and I have no doubt that they will feel guilty when they realize that doing nothing probably isn’t a great way to honor one’s mother.  They are good kids, after all.)

My grandmother died when I was thirteen and the truth is that afterwards, birthdays just lost their magic, at least mine did.  It only got worse as I got older. It was easy to start down the Eeyore road:  “Good Morning, if it is a good morning, which I doubt.”

Fortunately Mark Zuckerberg and company were thoughtful enough to include a birthday reminder in the platform such that I had scads of well-wishes through social media.  I had text messages, emails, and calls. I had friendly face-to-face greetings from kind members of my community. A package arrived with something I wouldn’t have bought for myself, but loved, from a friend 900 miles away.  Homemade goodies were delivered, including fudge.  (If you are ever interested in currying favor with me—send fudge.) Flowers came from “my own personal Texas.” (Do you have a personal Texas?  I think not.)  One of my besties took me for out for lunch with Mai Tais.

It was shaping up to be an unexpectedly good day. Then the phone rang. The call came from the county’s exchange, a school call. Dread gathered.

“Hello, this is Annie.” (Thank God, for the Mai Tai.)

Thirteen-year-old Zeep was in trouble.


At home later:

“Seriously? You got suspended from school on my birthday?”

Zeep looked at his feet. By all accounts, it had been a great week.  Zeep had been in a good mood.  One of his pals left his computer account open and unattended on one of the classroom computers.  Zeep thought it might be funny to change his pal’s account wallpaper to an image of a naked lady. He used the search term “playboy” and found an image of a woman draped across a big pillow, rump in the air. Just to be clear—this was not an X-rated image. There were no visible nipples, no lady-bits.

“Duh, I’m not stupid, Mom,” he explained. (Yes, I was good.  I stifled the sharp retort that was coiled to strike as soon as I opened my lips.)

Zeep thought it would be amusing.  His friend would see it, they would have a laugh, and then Zeep would quickly remove the image before any adult was the wiser.

Yeah.  It didn’t go like that.  There is a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and posting a nudie pic on someone else’s account fell squarely under the school district’s definition of harassment. Zeep was hosed.

Zeep’s pal may or may not have resolved questions of his own sexuality.  Regardless, I don’t think he thought the violation of trust was even remotely funny.  Perhaps he would have been mildly amused had he known that Zeep had been the perpetrator, but he didn’t suspect him.  Friends are trustworthy. To make matters worse, seeing his friend upset, Zeep could not admit to the deed—at least not initially.  <hairball>

I sent an apology to the mother of Zeep’s pal, who sent a reply that was excruciatingly nice.  The whole scenario is embarrassing for everyone involved, but as a community, we want to give the right messages to these boys.

…and that message is…?  (Suggestions welcome.)  As a single mother, determining exactly what to tell a boy about porn, sexual harassment, or masturbation—this isn’t the easy stuff. How do you instill ethics in a young man?  How do you discuss sexuality and morality in ways that aren’t warping? Does a single mother have even a shred of authority here?

(Good God, I pray that when the day comes when all the mothering goods and ills are tallied—I will at least break even.  Guidance is ever-welcome.)

On the evening of my birthday, a dear friend knew I was feeling let-down and blue. He dropped by to spontaneously whisk me out for drinks at a local watering hole.  I wasn’t feeling that great, but I put on some lipstick and went anyway. (It was getting very hard to feel sorry for myself.)

I have long said that the days between Christmas and my birthday are the dark ones.  The holiday bustle ends abruptly like a burst balloon.  I spend the days that follow dreading the day I turn another year older, ceremonially taking one step closer to death.  Once the day is over, I figure I am good for another year.  I have friends (great friends) who can’t understand this.  They celebrate their own private holiday every year, making damned sure nobody of any import forgets.  They find birthdays life-affirming, and don’t necessarily understand why I might find them precisely the opposite; a firm reminder of my own mortality, and an occasion for the hazardous endeavor of stock-taking.

My second grandmother left her husband a widower when I was in college.  Like a good granddaughter, I periodically went to visit him.  He lived more than an hour’s drive from us back then, but one particular weekend, we made the schlepp.  It was the height of my hippie-vegan years and he took us to Amish country. We had lunch at a place where there was nothing on the menu I would eat.  That wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as when he began to explain what was wrong with the government—which was exactly the opposite of what I thought was wrong with the government, and I was in college.  My professors certainly knew better than my carpenter grandfather who still used the word “ain’t,” even after his school-teacher wife had gently corrected him thousands of times over the course of their nearly forty-year marriage.  Grandpa had just had a birthday, which was the occasion for our visit.  He cried when he told us that a lady-friend had baked him a cake.  No one had baked him a cake since his wife had died. The cake-baking woman had felt sorry for him.

Certainly I never thought to bake him a cake.  I wasn’t especially fond of him.  He was racist and he flirted overtly with waitresses at restaurants without realizing how inappropriate it was. He was embarrassing. His was a pity cake for a lonely old man.

On the day after my birthday, gluten-free chocolate-chip muffins were delivered, with a candle.  Maybe it was a pity cake, but I don’t care. I don’t care to call it that anymore than my grandfather did.  Someone cared enough to bring cake. (Okay, not cake, muffins, but whatever.)  I love cake (or muffins or whatever).

One of the best wishes offered me this year:  “May all your wildest dreams come true.”

Oh my. I do have some wild ones…!

It’s gonna be a great year, I can just feel it.

4 comments to Feeling Sorry

  • Aurene

    “There is a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and posting a nudie pic on someone else’s account fell squarely under the school district’s definition of harassment.”

    A “zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.” Let me get this straight — even if you commit, say, a violent felony, the law gives you three strikes. But a boy posting a picture of a naked lady on a friend’s computer screen, with no actual females involved or harassed or even aware of this, merits being SUSPENDED? This is both loony, and an excellent way to start punishing a boy severely and early for, well, being a boy. Wow.

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    • There was some discussion about exactly that among the sexuality educators at church on Sunday. What does zero tolerance actually say to kids? There are some thing about the trend to tighten social expectations that I thoroughly appreciate. (Why, back in my day… It was just plain ugly.) A friend posed the question, “How would you feel if he [Zeep] had done something of this sort to a girl rather than a bro?”

  • endurovet

    **Gulp** This reminds me of an incident when my Z was 8 (3rd grade)… I heard him laughing uproariously from my home computer & went to get my share of the fun. One of his buddies had advised him to check out a website featuring soft-porn pix of large-bottomed women (can’t believe I’ve blocked the address out of my mind, but it was something innocuous-sounding!).

    Wish I had good answers for ya, but I know I’ve stumbled & failed miserably in my attempts to read sex ed books together, & “humiliated” Z when I initiated A Talk in front of his BF. Like it or not, I gave Z & his fellow Scouts the sexual-harassment lecture a couple of yrs ago, & I’ll keep tryin’.

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  • CarrotCakes14

    Umm Hi Annie, (this is [C] by the way)
    Can I just say that this is the first of your blog entries that I’ve ever read and it made me love you and wanna be you a whole lot. I now really wish that you had been my youth group adviser for a lot longer, and I love ["Sissy"], but I really think that “no-parents-of-youth-as-advisers” rule is stupid. You should’ve just stuck around. I think I’ll probably be getting obsessed with reading this and hopefully seeing you and getting to know you better in real life soon! I think you’re really cool and funny :)
    Love, [C]

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