The first thing you need to know about me is that I love to argue: as far as I’m concerned, religion and politics are the building–not the stumbling–blocks of a lovely dinner conversation. Just ask my husband: I will happily debate anyone, anywhere, anytime (prior knowledge of the subject at hand being a helpful, but not entirely necessary, prerequisite). Given all of that, I was never one to be daunted by the prospect of arguing with my children as they got older: on the contrary, I was looking forward to it. I envisioned a house full of impassioned dinner table debates on subjects as diverse as capital punishment, legalizing marijuana, and school dress codes. Sure, every now and then I knew that there would be debates more along the lines of which contestant should be the next one booted off of Hell’s Kitchen, but for the most part I thought that the quality of the rhetoric would be witty, erudite, and urbane–sort of like my own private Oscar Wilde play. What I ended up with, though, couldn’t have been more different: not only have our daily “debates” failed to reach the levels of sophistication I was dreaming of, at some times they even fail to reach a level of comprehension. This is because, for the most part, my children’s arguments are completely dumb.
By “dumb” I don’t mean to imply that their arguments are naive, although that is often the case.
“Why can’t everything be free?” says Clementine as she flips through the same toy catalog she has just ripped from her little brother’s hands with a shriek of “That’s MINE!”.
And I don’t mean to imply that their arguments are nonsensical; although that, too, is often the case.
“It’s no fair that our brains get to tell us what to do,” says Clyde, seemingly considering his own gray matter to be some sort of parasitical overlord.
No, I mean that their arguments are just plain stupid.
“Put on a raincoat,” I’ll say as Clementine heads out the door into a Class V hurricane.
“It’s not raining,” she’ll respond.
“Yes, it is,” I’ll counter, as our neighbors wave to us from their kayak in the middle of the street.
“I don’t see any rain.”
At that point, it’s on: back and forth like some sort of Abbot and Costello routine, until I am completely frustrated both by the fact that not only have we spent the last twenty minutes arguing, but that we have spent the last twenty minutes arguing about something so patently stupid. Maybe I took too many philosophy classes as an undergraduate, but I was always under the impression that debate was supposed to be about the intangibles: what is the nature of love, who owns the concept of honor, do two wrongs ever make a right. I had no idea that sober people could actually get into an argument over whether or not water falling from the sky qualified as “rain”. It’s like living with a future President of the United States.
At this rate, the next thing she’ll be debating is what the meaning of “is” is, or worse yet, arguing that even though we have not yet found any tangible evidence of sunshine, this fact does not imply that the sun is not still shining in some hidden bunker even as we speak.
I never imagined that the day would come when I’d actually be looking forward to debating the merits of Hell’s Kitchen?