Alektorophobia and Dangerous Tropes

In which MJ can’t decide on a topic

There are so many things I could write about this morning.  For instance, Eadaoin confronted her chicken phobia head on.  Yes, Eadaoin has a profound fear of chickens.  There’s actually a word for it–alektorophobia–which tells me that alektorophobia isn’t that uncommon.

We went to Wild Rumpus, an independent bookstore home to an unusual menagerie, where a couple of chickens roam freely–Chinese Silkies to be exact.  As soon as Eadaoin caught sight of one of those chickens strutting around the store, she froze and tears began streaming down her face.  She truly is terrified by chickens.  Milly the Fearless walked right up to that diminutive, fluffy hen and picked it up! I was taken aback.  I’m not exactly fond of chickens myself after The Incident with a mean rooster on the family farm years ago.  Eadaoin nearly screamed, but then she saw how docile the little chicken was.  She settled into Milly’s arms and made content chicken sounds.  Eadaoin looked at me and said, “She doesn’t seem mean.  Maybe I’ll pet her.”  And, she did!

I started looking at the graphic novel section when I heard Eadaoin’s voice behind me, “Mom, look, look!”  I turned around to see her HOLDING A CHICKEN! She was trembling, but she was indeed holding it.  “It’s not so bad.  She’s friendly.  She’s really small under all this fluff.”  Milly came over holding the other chicken.  It was quite a sight to behold–my girls holding these fancy chickens.

After we left the bookstore, Eadaoin said with a shaky voice, “I know what I’m going to talk about in DBT group this week.  I confronted my fear of chickens!  I did it! I could be fearful but still do what I was afraid of.”

That’s a dialectic.  Two opposing ideas that are true at the same time.  Eadaoin was fearful of chickens, and she could still hold a chicken while being afraid of it.  She did great work in that bookstore.

I used a dialectic approach on Tuesday when dealing with our neighbor who sent me quite the email.  Initially, her email appeared to be an olive branch, but it wasn’t.  It was condescending.  She apologized for kicking us off her lawn, but her reaction was our fault.  We made her feel defensive and, hence, made her do what she did.  She stood by every decision that she made and felt that Milly’s reaction was actually a display of her guilt.  She also indicated that she believed that I, in fact, did have Munchausens (sic) because she has heard that all four of my children have diagnoses and are medicated, and that concerns her.  Rumors are interesting because they seldom reflect the truth.  She heard wrong.  All four of my children do not have diagnoses nor are all four of my children medicated.  I have a feeling I know the very people responsible for keeping the rumor mill turning, and I’m not thrilled.

Munchausen Syndrome is a dramatic form of a factitious disorder in which people cause their own symptoms for a variety of reasons.  Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (MSBP), which is what I believe she was trying to say, is on the spectrum of factitious disorders and features a caregiver secretly abusing a child by faking or causing the symptoms in the child victim.  I would have to be quite the powerful sorceress to feign symptoms of schizophrenia in Grace and symptoms of autism in Milly.

She also went on to say that when Milly was playing at her house she told “friends” of hers who were “educators” and “psychologists” that Milly was diagnosed as autistic, and she asked them to assess her.  According to this woman, they observed Milly in her home and decided that she was misdiagnosed because she seemed well-adjusted.  I think this is the part of the entire situation that stuns me the most.  She asked other people to assess my child’s mental health because she questioned her diagnosis based on her own lack of understanding the diagnosis, and she is merely a neighbor.  She is not my daughter’s legal guardian or even a relative.  She’s doesn’t even rank as family friend.  She is a woman that lives down the street from our family.  This almost feels illegal.  In any case, it’s a violation of monstrous proportions, and whenever I think about it I feel something visceral.

She then went on to say that my daughter was the neighborhood bully for excluding children younger than her in her play.  This is where I had to agree with her.  Exclusion of other children in play, by definition, is social bullying, but if we are going to talk about bullying then we must define the term in its entirety.  She opened the door and made the accusation.  What about physical and verbal bullying? If my daughter was engaging in social bullying by excluding others, then what about her two boys who actively hit, taunted, punched, made sexual remarks, embarrassed, and singled-out? Those were acts of physical and verbal bullying, and they are also common to socialization.  Labeling and vilifying one child in a neighborhood for engaging in one act while dismissing all the other negative acts in which three other children regularly participate is all or nothing thinking and labeling.  It doesn’t tell the whole story.  A child can engage in a few negative behaviors and not be labeled as a bully.  I don’t call her sons bullies even though they are aggressive at times.  Why is Milly a bully when she chooses not to play with her sons after one of them has punched her in the face? Isn’t it reasonable not to want to play with someone who has groped you repeatedly and then screamed, “I hate you!”?

A good friend reminded me that while the boys’ behavior was inappropriate, it’s behavior that is often lumped under the age-old cliché, “Boys will be boys.”  As soon as Milly heard that phrase, she said, “Oh yeah, Tanya says that a lot.  Boys will be boys.  What does that even mean?”  Well, this is what it really means:

The expression “boys will be boys” attempts to explain away aggressive behaviors that a small number of children exhibit by linking it with “natural” or “biological” impulses, without examining other reasons for the aggression. Linking aggressive behaviors with a child’s sex assigned at birth ignores all the other environmental (family, media influences, messages at school, etc.) and individual factors (personalitynutrition, body chemistry, etc.) that might be influencing behavior. It creates an easy excuse to fall back on so adults don’t have to examine other reasons for such aggressive behaviors. It is also often used to justify schoolyard bullying—often very extreme cases that are violent and homophobic in nature—and causes many adults to accept negative behaviors as “natural.” The school principal in the famous Nabozny v. Podlesny case—where a student was hospitalized after being beaten up for being gay—justified the assault, using such terms. This phrase allows harmful behaviors to persist unchecked and possibly worsen over time. It also reduces the likelihood of adults intervening in interactions that can be really harmful. (The Danger of “Boys Will Be Boys”)

This binary thinking, however, applies the inverse to girls.  Girls are expected to be kind, nurturing, and inclusive, but everyone knows that all girls have a dark side, right? They can also be mean and conniving.  Boys are supposed to be aggressive and violent according to this “Boys will be boys” attitude, but God forbid a girl be relationally aggressive by excluding others on the playground!  We can excuse homophobia, sexual harassment, violence, verbal assaults, and the like but all but crucify girls for social bullying.

I’m not minimizing relational aggression.  It’s one thing to tell a kid in the neighborhood that you don’t want to play because he hit you in the face last week.  True social bullying? Oh, that’s a beast all its own, and people like Dr. Cheryl Dellasega are investing their lives into showing girls and women a better path.  Almost every girl and woman I know has been the target of relational aggression.  The point I’m making here is that I would wager that my neighbor is going to try to explain her children’s aggressive behavior, but she will express absolutely no interest in understanding the reasons for my daughter’s.  This is typical, and it’s myopic.  One can’t claim to want to live at peace with one’s neighbors and value the safety of all children in the neighborhood while refusing to look underneath behaviors for motivation.  It’s not possible.  You can’t single out a child and assign blame for all the woe and misery in a group without having all the information.  How many of us ever have all the information? How many of us ever know the whole story?

In the end, Tanya was the biggest bully in this scenario! Isn’t that ironic? She victimized a child, had a lawn tantrum, violated numerous boundaries, judged an entire family, and then justified all her behaviors with false information gleaned through gossip and rumors.

You know what? I’m not surprised.  On the scale of human behavior, this is probably fairly normal.  People love to gossip.  They love to talk about other people particularly if they themselves are unhappy. lonely, or in pain.  Misery loves company and all that.  There are some unhappy people in my neighborhood, and, believe it or not, we are not unhappy.  That can piss people off.  Seeing other people flourish under pressure and trying circumstances often draws unwanted, negative attention.  Plus, we are private.  Both my husband and I are introverts so it’s somewhat painful for us to be social butterflies.  This can come off as rude to other people if they are wont to fill in the blanks with speculations.

On this Thursday in May, I’ve learned this:

  • Always act with integrity.
  • Always remember that anything you say can and will be used against you by others who don’t really know you.  So, always speak thoughtfully and without malice toward everyone.  When the shit hits the fan, you want to be the one to walk away smelling like roses.
  • Reveal little about yourself and your children to your neighbors.  Who people are on their front lawns is seldom who they are behind closed doors.
  • Go with your gut.  If you sense that something is off about a person, you’re probably right.
  • Be kind.  Be polite.  Be generous if can, but always mind your boundaries particularly if there is a Queen Bee or Gossiping Hen in your neighborhood.
  • Coach your children on dealing with the Gossiping Hen.  The Gossiping Hen in our neighborhood has cornered three of my daughters aggressively seeking out rather personal information.  Doireann had no problem shutting it down, but both Grace and Milly were confused and fearful because of the power differential present since they are children and the Gossiping Hen is an adult.  Your children need to know that they have permission to run away from any adult who causes them to feel threatened–even if it’s an adult who is pressing them for information.  It’s still a violation.
  • Live at peace with your neighbors if you can, but don’t tolerate a false peace.  That’s not peace at all.  True peace doesn’t come at the expense of your dignity or the dignity of your family.

I imagine the saga isn’t over yet because Tanya is the sort of personality who will want the last word.  I know what I’m dealing with here.  Her last word will have to come at our expense for her to feel empowered.  People are…interesting.

If I could have the last word, this is what it would be:

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Resource:

The Danger of “Boys Will Be Boys” by Elizabeth J. Meyer, PhD

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6 thoughts on “Alektorophobia and Dangerous Tropes

  1. That is one of my soap box issues, “boys will be boys” or even “kids will be kids.” Another soap box issue for me is gender inequality. Good luck dealing with your psycho neighbor. All I can do about my neighbor from hell is hope that time is very unkind to her sooner rather than later.

    • Well, I honestly don’t wish ill on anyone. I do, however, wish that enlightenment and peace would descend upon my neighborhood so that strife, discord, and backbiting would cease paving the way towards a better way of life. I would like the adults here to model appropriate conflict management, sound communication, and build a healthy community so that the kids see what safe adults look like. That’s what I really want. But, until that happens, situations like these provide great opportunities for us to grow and practice the skills that we have while showing us the skills that we need to acquire to become better people. Really, it can be a win/win either way. At least that’s how I’m going to reframe this.

  2. Crap. I’m caught up.

    I think you’ve covered every part of my life in this blog. Didn’t see that coming. Not just covered, but offered insightful advice.

    If you really mean these things that you’ve written in this blog, actually live them and aren’t just hacking at a keyboard, then Much Respect.

    Guru was probably not the correct word. To be a Guru, you just need somebody to listen every once in a while, regardless of what you say. I think Role Model is definitely the better fit. It’s one thing to spend a lot of time thinking or reading about something, such that you can wax profound. It’s another actually to apply these ideas to your life. In real time. When things are very difficult. And, further, to take the time to share it with others . . . when you have so much free time.

    This must be therapy for you, but still – Thanks.

    • Well, you’re welcome! Thank YOU! I’m not just hacking a keyboard. This is my life, and this is who I am. If you found anything here that helped you, then that’s meaningful to me. It means that all of *this* wasn’t for nothing. I still can’t believe you read this whole thing!

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