You ever hear the one about the 7 year old boy that sexually assaulted the 37 year old woman? No? Me neither, which is why I was determined to shrug it off and leave it alone when I left my newest babysitting house on Friday afternoon.
The boys I was working with were seven and nine, and by mom’s own admission, watching their parents go through a nasty divorce. Understanding at least part of what that’s like, I decided to take the job anyways. The morning was perfectly fine. We traded snark about some things we found mutually stupid, colored Halloween decorations, and went to the park. After lunch a switch flipped. Within minutes these boys were screaming, chasing each other around, and kicking each other where, many men tell me, the sun does not shine once you are kicked there.
I was doing my best to prevent bloodshed and not feed into or escalate what was happening, even though I could tell from how they watched me, that was just what they were hoping for. Finally, after running from me and hiding in the closet with lots of whispers and giggles, the seven year old emerged with his penis pulled out, waving it at me. I kept my eyes to the sky, not wanting someone to hear from their child “she looked at it”, and barked off something about that being inappropriate. Even in the moment however, I knew that “inappropriate” wasn’t really what I wanted to say.
In the next half hour he pulled it our three more times, each time getting closer to me and more determined with his wagging. I noticed, as I sat stock still, that all my muscles were engaged to get up and run away. There was no rapid breathing or heartbeat, this was a child with little to no conscious conception of what he was doing, and even less ability to actually hurt me, but when the mother seemed unsurprised at the news, my heart did skip a beat. I didn’t want the children to get beaten with a shoe, or even really punished at all, but I wanted her to seem less tired, to care more outwardly that her boys were seething with little outlet. I told her later outside the door that having a kid expose themselves to me was really “no big deal.” Also, really not what I wanted to say.
So, why am I still bothered by this a few days later, bothered enough to sit and write? First and foremost, it’s that HE KNEW. Somewhere in this little boy, because he’s absorbed the culture we’ve allowed and created, he knew that something about his male anatomy could be threatening enough to get what he wanted from me. He knew that a crude joke wasn’t just a crude joke, but rather one of many points on a spectrum of aggression. He knew. And his brother, who was cheering him along and finding the whole thing hilarious, knew too.
I know so many mothers and fathers of boys (and girls) who are working their asses off trying to help mold non-Trumpesque humans. But it strikes me that for every one of those families, there is a family like this, who for lack of tools or time or energy, doesn’t know or care what to do anymore. I don’t think they are bad people. In fact, they are many of the same parents who asked me in tears, as their child’s teacher, what to do with their children who had gone off the rails. Then and now, I don’t have any answers for them. But how do we move towards balance as a society if the efforts of some are cancelled out by the efforts of others? What do we do if masculinity (and femininity) keep being seen by some as weapons and not gifts?
The other thing bothering me? I felt the same sense of powerlessness that day and willingness to shrug it off that I always do. I felt the same powerlessness as when I was 12; my first stepdad stuck his arm through a crack in the chained door, and slapped my mother in the face. At almost 30 I felt that powerlessness again, when after a wonderful mutual booty call and nap, I told my slightly sleepy paramour it was almost time for him to go. He started screaming about how women were always using him and I found myself wondering if I could get to the knives in my kitchen if I had to. Months later he was in my neighborhood and came up behind me while I was at the mailbox and grabbed me by the hips, laughing at how badly scared I was. At 32, a man who had been my best friend for almost ten years stopped speaking to me when I began dating someone seriously, and my sense of powerless rage came flooding back. These are only a few stories, only a few times I’ve been harassed or manipulated, and they are by far tamer than what many women I know went through. But this seven year old boy brought that all back.
There’s no real conclusion to this post. Maybe I wouldn’t have written it at all had I not seen Michelle Obama’s speech recently. Watching her voice shake and her heart pound, but seeing her call out the truth anyways, as best she could, was mesmerizing and very much stuck in me. Maybe I am feeling into the nervousness surrounding my upcoming embodiment workshop, where we will feel into what it is like to stand up for ourselves, for others, and to be with whatever is happening in a way that keeps us in integrity. Historically, standing up for myself has been difficult. It’s a little easier when others need me, but I still am not as consistent as I would like to be. I imagine I will be facing a lot of fears this weekend, none of them related to Halloween. Maybe it’s time to start thinking more about how to resource single parents so they can better tackle their doubly difficult job. This is a thought that’s played at the corner of my mind more than once over the years. It’s never large enough to get action, but always big enough to be noticed. My siblings and I were also angry children, ill equipped for divorce, many years ago. I found outlets for enough of my anger that I didn’t self destruct. My siblings did not.