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The Consent Equation

 

I know that my son, Clyde, has not always appreciated having a budding social justice warrior for an older sister. I’m sure he didn’t fully appreciate having her come home from working her shift at Pride in the Pines when he was twelve and making him listen to her “sexuality is a spectrum” speech. And no eleven-year-old boy is ever really ready for his sister to casually mention that “virginity is just a social construct.” But the day that probably stands out the most in his mind is the time when he was nine and she burst into his room demanding he answer the question, “Can drunk girls consent?” And then, when he didn’t answer her quickly enough, answered the question herself with a sharp, “No, they can not.” Nor did he probably appreciate the lecture that followed when she explained to him that consent must always contain the following three elements: “continual, verbal, and enthusiastic.” At nine I’m pretty sure he was more interested in catching up on the latest Naruto release then in learning the finer points of navigating sexuality in a world of vastly unequal power dynamics.

Now, however, at the wise old age of sixteen, when such things are much more relevant, I’m sure he feels a little less mortified, and a lot more grateful. (Well, to be honest, probably no less mortified, and only a little more grateful.) But still, there must be some degree of gratitude there, if only for helping him thus far avoid any of the scandals that have befallen pretty much every celebrity ever, with the possible exception, of course, of Tom Hanks. (Please, don’t ever let me hear anything bad about Tom Hanks.)

Of course, I’d like to believe that Clyde (or any boy, really) has always been the type of person who already understands everything his sister once insisted he learn, with special emphasis placed on the importance of consent, but recent scandals would seem to insist otherwise. Apparently, there are some men (yes, I know: #notallmen) who seem to be under the impression that the “nuances” of consent are not, in fact, something simple enough to explain to a nine-year-old boy, but are rather some form of advanced math, a complicated story problem involving clothing, and alcohol, and buyer’s remorse. The truth of the matter is that consent is not even long division level of hard; it’s simple addition. You+ continual, verbal, and enthusiastic=consent.

This is so easy to understand, and so commonly accepted that Lenny Bruce worked it into his stand up act sixty years ago. (“You never touch it” he complains to his wife, who replies “Do you really want me to touch it if I don’t want to touch it?” When he answers her with a desperate “Yes!” the audience laughs. They laugh because, even back then, they knew what he was asking of her was wrong.)

Lenny (and Lenny’s wife, and Lenny’s audience) all understood what Louis C.K. and others seem to have forgotten, or pretend not to have known in the first place: not only does an absence of “no” does not mean “yes,” but a “yeah, I guess” doesn’t mean “yes” either. Because, really, the most important part of the consent trinity is enthusiastic. Without enthusiasm there is no consent. (And if you are so socially inept that you legitimately can’t tell the difference between enthusiastic and grudging, then it is probably in the public’s best interest not to let you wander freely about without some kind of an aide.)

We can’t all be lucky enough to have an older sister who firmly believes (rightfully so) that “the birds and the bees” should be updated to include “and asking nicely, please.” But, just maybe, we can all make up for lost time by channelling our own budding social justice warriors and explaining consent to the boys in our lives. Even if they would rather get caught up on the latest Naruto release.

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Yes, There Is Something We Can Do

 

Before we knew anything about the driver of the car that careered down a New York city bike path, before we knew any of the details about the shooting in Las Vegas, before we had more than snippets of information about the massacre of half of the congregation at a small Texas church, we all instinctively knew one thing about the assailant: it was a man.

Think about it: as shocked as you were when you first heard the news, how much more shocked would you have been to find out that the perpetrator was a woman? That’s because, in nearly 100% of seemingly “random” acts of violence, the perpetrator is a man. An angry, violent, man. And this—this, is what scares me the most about all of these attacks. It scares me because this is the part of the equation that I actually have the ability to do something about, and I’m terrified that I’m going to somehow mess it up.

I can accept the fact that there is no way for me to control many of the terrible fates that could potentially befall me or the people I love. Random acts of violence are just that—random—and I can no more determine when and where the the next one will strike than I could determine where the next meteor will fall. And so, by that logic, there is nothing to be gained by worrying about them.

However, as the mother of a son, I can try and control the other half of the equation. I can’t do anything to ensure that I or someone I love won’t one day be faced with an individual who is so broken and angry they want to hurt everyone around them. But I can do a lot towards making sure that I don’t help create that very same broken individual myself.

It is a sad fact of our society that the only emotion many boys are allowed to feel is anger. Not sadness, not fear, not disappointment, not anxiety—every expression of these “weaker” emotions is met with the command to “man up,” or “stop being a little pussy.” And so we create these sad, inchoate creatures who have been denied the opportunity to really understand what it means to be human. We talk about Millennials who have never learned “how to adult,” while ignoring the much larger problem of our neighbors and coworkers who have never learned “how to human.”

Look, I’m not trying to pull a Trump here and say that this isn’t a gun problem. It is clear to anyone with even a slight understanding of math that less guns would equal less carnage, in the same way that if we were suddenly able to purchase personal nuclear weapons at Walmart the body count would start to go way up. But there’s no reason that it can’t be both an anger and a gun problem, in the same way that someone can be both drunk and stupid. And so, what I’m suggesting is that we try and work on both problems at once. Outside of the home let’s work on electing people who understand that, unlike lobbyists, numbers never lie, and inside the home let’s work on helping our tender-hearted, sensitive boys stay that way.

Although perhaps “work” is the wrong term for what we must do, because that implies that there is something wrong with our boys that we need to fix, when the truth is that there is something right with them that we need to stop breaking. Just like our little girls, our little boys are born ready to love and be loved in return. Compassion and kindness is their factory setting; all that is required of us is to not change it, and to speak up when others (coaches, teachers, older relatives) try and change it themselves.

It might not fix the entire world, but it will at least fix the part of it that is still within our grasp. And who knows? It’s entirely possible that that just might be enough.

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Standing up by Sitting Down

 

When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided to stop standing for the pledge of allegiance. There was no single reason for me to come to this decision—while there were plenty of things our government was doing that I did not agree with (these were the Reagan years, after all), it was more of a matter of slowly realizing that not only did the words in the pledge make me uncomfortable (as an atheist I found the “under god” part particularly irksome), but also that the very sentiment behind it gave me pause. At that point I had only taken one class in world history, but that had been enough to let me know that nationalism never ended well for anyone.

So I stopped. I stopped because once I really thought about what the pledge meant to me I knew that to continue to say it would be dishonest. This decision, of course, did not go over well with my fellow students, and went over even less well with some of the teachers and administrators. Finally, after one class had devolved into chaos, with half the room saying the pledge and half the room not saying the pledge because they were too busy yelling at me to “Stand up! Stand up! Stand up already!” I was called in to speak to the principal about “causing a distraction.” (The irony of the people who were actually doing the yelling not being called in for being “distracting” was not lost on me.)

We spoke at length about why I wasn’t standing and reciting the pledge. And then, after hearing me out, he sent me back to class. And that was that. I never said the pledge again. The shouting continued for the rest of the year, but less and less each time, until finally, by the time I graduated, it was hardly remarked upon at all. And in my mind I thought that that had meant I had won.

For over thirty years now I thought that meant that I had won. Me. Personally. That my arguments were so compelling, my belief so sincere, my demeanor so calm and righteous that the obstacles before me had simply fallen away in shame.

Watching what is now happening on sports fields around the world has caused to me re-evaluate that belief, much to my chagrin.

What if the truth was that the best argument I made sitting there in my principal’s office was one that never came out of my mouth? What if the best argument against me getting into trouble for asserting my rights was simply the fact that me having (and exercising) those same rights didn’t really make anyone uncomfortable? After all, the idea that my people—young, white bookish females—were rising up and calling for change was probably not that intimidating. I mean, yeah, it was a little intimidating (hence the yelling), but really, to older and wiser heads, to the ones who actually had the power (like my principal), it was probably just an anomaly.

A blip.

It is, without a doubt, humbling and kind of depressing when you finally realize that you weren’t quite as “all that” as you’d like to remember. But it is also empowering. It’s like the first time you ever realized that the only reason you had won all those games of Hearts with your grandmother back when you were a kid was because she was letting you. At first you were shocked—your reality was upended. Then you were angry and defensive—surely it wasn’t all of the games? I mean, you must have won some of them, right? And then, finally, you were determined. Determined that, from now on, all games would be on the level. Meaning that, from now on, you would compete as equals.

It is probably the height of irony that now, after all of these years, it is only in watching the hysteria surrounding people protesting against an unequal system that I finally understand just how much I myself have benefitted from that system, but then again, that’s just irony doing its job.

Because really, if there’s anything in this world that truly qualifies as “equal opportunity,” than surely it is irony.

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Things Left Unsaid…Almost

 

Well, it finally happened. My son, Clyde, just asked me if I would be willing to take fifty percent of the things I was about to say and just…not. Considering the fact that we have known each other for sixteen years now (his whole life), the truth is in that taking sixteen years to finally say this to me he has actually set a new record—no one else has ever made it past ten. (And even then that ten year mark was set by his sister, Clementine—most adults only make it three or four years before they make this request.)

The incident that caused Clyde to break his streak involved me going to his high school Open House, a refused handshake, and some pus. Okay, here’s the whole story. As it happens so often in Flagstaff (especially among us clumsy people), I slipped on some cinders and ended up getting some of them lodged in the palm of my hand. Deep. They weren’t really painful—more annoying than anything, but I kept my eye on them nonetheless, watching for signs of infection. (To be clear, I was watching not out of fear of infection, but rather hope: I knew that the only way I would be able to dislodge those deeply set cinders would be to squeeze them out on a wave of pus. What? Go to the doctor? For cinders in my hand? Okay Mrs. Munchausen.)

Anyway, the night of the Open House the Blessed Event finally occurred, and I was able to get the last, deepest cinder out of my hand. Being the thoughtful sort, and knowing that other people generally don’t like to touch another person’s pus, I decided to decline all handshakes that came my way that night. Also, so as not to appear rude and standoffish, I accompanied each decline with a regretful, “Sorry, I can’t shake your hand right now: I just squeezed a bunch of pus out of mine.”

True, in retrospect the added “Want to see?” was probably a bit much, but that last cinder had been percolating in there for well over a week, and I was feeling giddy with triumph.

All of this made perfect sense to me. And no sense at all to Clyde. Hence his request to just…not.

Of course, what Clyde (and everyone else) doesn’t understand is that I am already editing out half of my comments. Heck, truth be told I’m editing out more like seventy-five percent. And at that Open House? Closer to ninety for sure. I was like the Terminator at that Open House, scrolling down a list of comments in my mind until I got to the “appropriate” one. Clyde had no idea how many comments about the color and texture of the pus I kept to myself, nor how many comments reminiscing about how, “this one time, I got a splinter—more like a miniature stake, actually—to shoot halfway across the room.” And it probably hadn’t even occurred to him the number of stigmata jokes I graciously kept to myself, all out of respect for him.

Fortunately, thanks to Clementine, I know that there is still hope for him to one day be able to recognize my true tongue-biting skills. After all, she was the one who was appalled by the things I said out loud when she was ten, and yet now, at the age of twenty, often finds herself biting her own tongue just as hard. (Although she is not entirely happy about this: whenever she tells me about trying hard not to say something—and failing—she says, “Oh my God—I think I’m turning into you.”)

So, if the pattern holds true, Clyde should be reaching this same epiphany by the time he is thirty. At which point it won’t really matter what I say anymore, because by then I should be old enough that I can finally play my “senile old lady” card.

I can hardly wait. In fact, maybe I won’t. Open Houses will never be the same again.

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Pocketers

 

My kids are both unquestionably Millennials, not only in age, but in attitude. This is both a good and a bad thing. It is bad in that they think that “Starbucks” is one of the five food groups. Good, though, in that that chastise me when I get my own Starbucks in a disposable cup. Good in that they are more likely to “swipe right” based on how cute the cat is that is being held in the profile picture than on how closely the cat holder’s skin tone matches their own. Bad in that they are swiping at all. But really, the thing that most defines them as true Millennials is that there are drawers and drawers in my house that are absolutely full of participation trophies. Or rather, participation medals, since medals were the compromise we somehow reached between the space-hogging (and expensive) trophies of legend and the flimsy green “Participant” ribbons of our own youth. Yes, my children are of the generation that perfected getting a prize just for showing up. Or rather, as they were only children then, they are of the generation that had the practice perfected upon them.

They are the generation sneeringly referred to as “Snowflakes”—the kids who supposedly have been conditioned from birth to melt at the first sign of adversity. The ones who are derided for wanting all of the spoils of victory without doing any of the actual fighting. And yet, ironically, as the events of the last few weeks have shown, they are not the ones who truly deserve that title. They are not the ones who are holding the Ultimate Participation Trophy. Because they are not the ones marching through the streets carrying torches.

If Charlottesville has taught us anything, it has taught us that white privilege is the ultimate participation trophy. And the people who refuse to acknowledge this truly are the ultimate snowflakes. Or rather, as one internet meme but it, the “broflakes.”

Think about it: the very definition of privilege is receiving benefits for something that you did not earn. It’s getting into a school because your father went there. It’s getting the chance to rifle through your glove box looking for your car registration unharmed because your age and/or gender is considered “unthreatening.” It’s even something as simple as getting to be first in line because your last name starts with the letter “A.”

There’s nothing wrong with having privilege. And there’s nothing wrong with resenting people who have privileges you don’t. (Yeah, that’s right all of you Andersons out there—as a Wilson, I resent the hell out of your privilege.) And, really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your privilege. After all, who among us doesn’t enjoy finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk? Unearned, undeserved, but still, it feels like a triumph. Like, for once, everything is coming up you.

Here’s the thing, though: what do you do with that unearned twenty? Do you look around to see if someone else is looking for it, or do you slyly pocket it? Or, if you already have a wallet full of twenties, do you give it to the next needy person you see? What you do with that unearned twenty (or your privilege) defines you. The Charlottesville nazis? Pocketers, every last one of them. Worse, pocketers who, as soon as that twenty was safely tucked into their wallets, rewrote the story in their own heads so that they had somehow earned it. “I was the only person smart enough to look down at that moment, so…”

I’m not saying that Millennials are perfect. I’m not even saying that there aren’t plenty of pocketers among their own ranks. But it seems to me that they have learned at least one very important lesson that the rest of us still seem to be a little bit behind on: if you’re going to hand out medals to everyone just for showing up, then you had better make sure you have enough medals to go around. Even if you have to pull a few out of your own drawers to do it.

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Old Yeller

 Logging on to my computer the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the headline blaring across the top of the page: “Is Yelling Worse Than Hitting?” My response to this was both immediate and visceral: Dear god, I certainly hope so—there’s no way I could hit as hard as I can yell. It was with a bit of trepidation, then, that I finally clicked open the link, where I saw, to my immense relief, that I needn’t have worried at all: according to the article in question yelling is indeed much worse than hitting. Imagine my confusion then when the very same article went on to suggest several ways that parents could avoid yelling, my favorite two being 1) Try not to be around stressful people and situations (like, perhaps, your children?), and 2) whenever the urge to yell overtakes you try retreating to a quiet room and lighting a soothing candle instead. (Since the urge to yell usually overtakes me when one of my children is doing something like chasing the other one around the living room with a steak knife, suggestion number two would probably not be in anyone’s best interest, and in fact would undoubtably lead to a spate of articles with headlines like: “Are Puncture Wounds Worse Than Mental Scars?”)

When did yelling get such a bad rap, anyway? As far as I’m concerned, yelling has it all over spanking. For one thing, with yelling you don’t even have to be within arm’s reach for it to be effective; on the contrary, the farther away the yell-ee is from the yell-or, the more effective it seems to be. (Nothing says I’m serious like a reprimand delivered from two houses away.) And then there’s the fact that yelling gives you a much broader range of nuances to choose from: from the casual stop riding on the dog yell, to the more strident stop peeing on the dog yell, all the way up to the frantic don’t put that in your mouth–it came out of the dog yell.

In fact, one of the best things about yelling is that you don’t even have to raise your voice to do it: every child knows that the most frightening yell of all is the silent one, the one where your mother simply mouths just you wait at you while she is on the phone.

Of course, to give the authors of the article credit, I’m sure that there are plenty of households out there where the parents don’t really yell at all, just like I am sure that there are plenty where they never watch anything but educational TV, never eat any food that is not triple-certified organic, and never make any decisions without first holding a family meeting. And I’m sure that these families are very, very happy—even if it is in a Stepford kind of way. My question for them, though, is this: what happens when all those poor un-yelled at children finally go and live in the real world? How do they deal with their first boss, their first room-mate—even their first spouse? Do they just dissolve into a puddle of tears at the first raised decibel?

At least with my children I know that whatever unreasonable boss, psycho room-mate, or Jerry Springer-worthy spouse the world throws at them, they’ll be O.K. Even now, at the tender ages of four and eight, they could probably go to a PETA convention wearing full-length fur coats and emerge completely unscathed. Heck, they could probably wear PETA t-shirts to a cockfight and be none the worse for wear.

Now if only I could find a way to make them immune to siblings and steak knives they’d be set for life.

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Cage Match, Revisited

Today is my son, Clyde’s, 16th birthday.  This is a column I originally published when he was five.  (Note the dated jokes about George Bush and Dell computers.)  Spoiler alert: neither of my predictions for Clementine and Clyde’s future career paths came true.  Thank god.

I’ve always wondered if the little tics you have when you are a child give any indication as to what kind of career you will have when you grow up. Take my stepfather, for example: from a very young age he showed an unusual interest in both sweeping and making secret recordings of people using the toilet, and he grew up to be crazy. Okay, so maybe that’s not such a good example, but just imagine a five-year-old Thomas Edison driving his parents absolutely crazy with all of his early inventions, or Mademoiselle Curie’s favorite toy being her junior chemistry set. Who knows, maybe even George Bush made a habit of invading neighboring kids’ yards and liberating their unusually large toy reserves. It’s possible.

Of course, the real reason for me having such a strong interest in this question is none other than my very own five-year old son, Clyde, and the rather “interesting” personal habits that are are all his own. When he was younger these habits involved things like wiping his butt and blowing his nose with the same piece of toilet paper—in that order. Naturally, this made me think that any future career he had would involve him saying things like “would you like fries with that?” and “I’d like to tell you about a special offer from Dell.” Lately, however, he has begun to show talents of another sort, talents that I hope may yet lead him down an entirely different, albeit not quite as respectable, career path: fight promoter.

Everything Clyde touches starts a fight. His silverware at dinnertime, the pair of socks he has been told to put on, even the worms he finds when I am planting in the yard. Nothing is safe from his Don King-like machinations; when it comes to organizing a throw down he is Tina Turner in Beyond the Thunderdome, except that he is also that creepy little guy who’s always saying, “who rules Bartertown?”

With Clyde, though, it’s not just the fights themselves, but rather the nature of the fights that makes me think he has a future in the sports world. Like all the best fight promoters, Clyde knows that there is more to orchestrating a fight than just throwing a couple of combatants into a ring: instinctively he seems to understand that the best fights involve not just man against man (or, in Clyde’s case, fork against spoon), but rather are little Morality plays where Good can finally triumph over Evil. That’s why, in Clyde’s rumbles, the potato masher (Good) always wins out over the ice cream scoop (Evil), and even the lowly (but still Good) butter knife can carry the day against the supremely Evil corkscrew.

Of course, the thing that really makes me think that Clyde will grow up to be a fight promoter, and not just a fight instigator, are his audiences. Who can forget the big showdown between the slotted serving spoon (Good) and the melon-baller (Evil)? Certainly not all the soupspoons and teaspoons, who turned out en masse to cheer their brethren on. (And certainly not the rest of us, who ate our cereal with forks for days and days.)

You’d think then, what with Clyde’s career path seemingly laid out before him, that I’d be entirely sold on the idea of your childhood interests determining your future career–-but actually, I’m not. I can’t be, because that would then mean that my nine-year old daughter, Clementine, whose current favorite hobby is cutting out little tiny pieces of paper and leaving them in piles all over the house, will someday grow up to be a performance artist. Or, like my stepfather, crazy. Although, I have to say that, of the two choices, I’m definitely hoping for the latter.

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Sign, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

 

There was one summer when I was in college that I worked as a painter for the university. For the most part this meant repainting and patching over a bajillion thumbtack holes in dorm rooms, but occasionally we would also paint a common area like a hallway or stairwell. When that happened there was one guy on our crew who always liked to be the one to write and hang up the “Wet Paint” signs—and the rest of us would let him, because his “Wet Paint” signs were always way more successful than ours. This was probably due to the fact that our signs simply said “Wet Paint,” whereas his signs said, “Tell a man that there are billions of stars in the Universe and he will believe you without question. Tell the same man there is wet paint and he has to touch it and find out for himself. WET PAINT.” Yeah, our paint got touched a lot less with the wordier sign.

Of course, I don’t know if those longer signs really worked better just because they were long. I’d like to think that was the reason, though, because if long signs really can cause someone to stop and think then I’m going to start plastering my house with them. Or at least every part of my house that contains a teenager. (The washing machine and dishwasher are safe, obviously.) My signs will say things along the lines of, “Why would you believe, unquestioningly, that GMOs are bad for you, but will not accept the notion that milk left out on the counter overnight will go bad?”

Or better yet: “Why do you believe there is a worldwide conspiracy afoot to control the internet, but cannot understand that you can go online and check your grades at any time?” Also, “So Bigfoot and Slenderman are real, but skunks (the kind that come into the house and eat the cat food when you leave the back door open), are not?”

Who knows? Perhaps we are all just hard-wired to make things more complicated than they need to be, and like with every other emotion, teenagers are just the same as us, but more so. Or perhaps belief in the things we can’t change (the government is watching our every move) is easier to accept than belief in the things we can (if you keep smoking it will kill you.) Whatever the reason is, I wish there was a way to harness a teenager’s complete and unquestioning belief in absolute utter nonsense into a similar belief in things that are actually true. Things like, “doing your homework will improve your grades” and “the best way to find something that is lost is to get out of bed and look for it.”

Maybe, though, it’s not the message that is the problem—it’s the delivery. A wise man once said, “A lie will travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its pants on;” a more modern retelling would be, “A lie will have three different subreddits while the truth still has a myspace.” Maybe I just need to find a way give “Wet towels will mildew under your bed” the same following as “Drinking Mountain Dew Red will turn you into an alpha male.”

Of course, there is always the possibility that if I train myself to start thinking like a teenager—if I train myself to communicate only in memes, for instance—that I will then become the thing I’m trying to study, and no longer remember (or believe) whatever wisdom I originally wanted to impart. (Maybe memes are like a really slow version of The Ring: watch enough of them and you acquire the curse. Only, instead of dying, you become incredibly gullible.)

In the end I’m sure that what will actually happen is that I’ll just do it the same way my parents did when I was a teenager—and as I’m sure their parents did as well: give it time. After all, adolescence isn’t a permanent condition. And, to tell the truth, sometimes it’s kind of fun watching people touching the wet paint.

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Don’t Worry, Be Annoying

 

“Really?” my son, Clyde, asked me, his voice thick with disbelief, “you’re reading that now?”

I glanced down at the book in question: Violent Ends, a novel about a school shooting written from seventeen different perspectives. “What?” I replied. “It’s an interesting subject.”

“It’s only interesting because there’s been like five threatening notes about it at my school! You’re not supposed to be interested; you’re supposed to be worried.”

“Can’t I be both?”

“Are you?” he asked with a glare.

“Well,” I hedged. “I could be. You wouldn’t know.”

“Except I do. Because it’s you.” And then he shook his head and walked away, not in the I-hate-you-and-you’re-ruining-my life kind of way, but rather in the what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-a-mom-like-you kind of way. (And yes, I can tell the difference.)

The thing is, he was right. I wasn’t worried. But then again neither was he: he just wanted to tease me about my potentially insensitive choice of reading material. How do I know he wasn’t worried? Because this is the same kid who once texted me on his walk home from elementary school to tell me that “a man just gave me some candy and now I’m all sleeeeepy.” (I laughed when I got it, and then ran outside to look down the street: he was waiting for me with a huge smile on his face.)

Am I saying that I never had a moment’s worry about him being abducted when he was younger? No. The same way I am not now saying I never worry about him being caught in violence at school (or anywhere else, for that matter.) Being a parent means that you are in a constant state of worry: about school shootings, global warming, the collapse of the economy, the gradual erosion of civil rights. It is, as someone once described it, like having a horror movie playing in your head all of the time: that’s how much and how often you think about all the terrible things that can happen to your child. It is such a constant that, at the end of the day, the only real wish you have remaining is that somehow everything will work out in such a way that you are lucky enough to be the one who dies first.

So yeah, I worry.

But I’m not a worrier. My worry doesn’t define me, and it doesn’t define my relationship with my kids. And it doesn’t define my relationship with your kids, either. Meaning that, just as I’m convinced that my kids are generally pretty awesome people, I think yours probably are, too. And for that matter, so are you. Yep: call me Pollyanna, but I genuinely believe that most people are good. And, after nearly fifty years of boots-on-the-ground style research, I’m happy to report that my theory has held up admirably well. (Remember: I said most, not all.)

Which explains why I have felt comfortable sending Clyde to school despite the notes: I know that, overwhelmingly, the people he is sitting next to in class are good. (I would even venture to say that the person or persons who are writing the notes are good, too—just confused and a little sad.)

It is entirely possible, of course, that I am wrong about this. It is entirely possible that there is a sociopath in out midst, someone who is not at all good (or, for that matter, evil, because they do not have the capacity to tell the difference between the two), and that person is waiting out there, biding their time before they cause serious harm. But in that case there is nothing I can do about it anyway, and so worrying about such an event happening is even less helpful.

So yeah, I’m going to keep sending my kid to school. Where he will (hopefully) be sitting next to your kids. And in the meantime, I’m not going to worry about anything—other than which annoying book I’m going to read in front of him next, that is.

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Lying Liars Who Lie

 

When my children were younger, I didn’t really mind so much when they would lie to me. After all, lying is a skill just like anything else, and the only way we get better at the things that require skill is the same way we get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. I think that (if we’re being honest about lying), most people feel the same way. It’s the reason why we find all those YouTube videos of toddlers blaming the cat for their misadventures with the Sharpie to be adorable rather than infuriating. Aw look, we all say, they’re so little they can’t even lie properly. How cute.

Of course, I (and every other parent) becomes significantly less amused when, ten years down the road that mischievous toddler turns into a surly teenager, and their lies remain just as inept. Because at that point their lies are no longer bad because they lack the skills to do it well (years and years of sometimes successful lying have finally given them those talents), but rather because they lack the desire. A toddler lies poorly because they are too ignorant to do it well; a teenager lies poorly because they think you are too ignorant to be worth the trouble to do it better. And that, even more than the lie itself, is what is so infuriating.

And also explains why our country’s current administration is so infuriating to so many usually apolitical people.

The great Judge Judy once famously said, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining,” meaning that the lie itself was insult enough: don’t insult me a second time by not even bothering to make it a good lie. Over the years the plaintiffs that appeared in her court (or at least the viewers watching them) learned that lying to Judge Judy was the quickest way you could lose a case: she trained her courtroom to know that about her. Just as we, as parents, hopefully trained our children to understand that the lie was always going to be punished worse than the crime—I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has ever choked back a bitter lecture about drinking simply because I got the midnight call for rescue from the offending party, and not the police.

The question then becomes, how do we train the President (and the President’s surrogates) not to lie—or rather, not to lie so badly? Because every time we get distracted by just how bad some of them are at lying, we are taking our eyes off of the big picture (what they’re lying about), and being distracted (yet again) by the darting red laser pointer of the lie itself.

I propose that we train them the same way we train our children: we ignore it. Not that we ignore the transgression, but rather, that we ignore the lie that accompanies it. When your toddler insists that “the cat” was the one who drew all over the walls with marker, you don’t fire up Wikipedia to prove to them that, lacking opposable thumbs, a cat would never have been able to open the marker, let alone wield it. You don’t “fact-check” their conspiracy theories about who might have “stolen” their homework. (Or at least you shouldn’t.)You proceed as if the lie had never happened. And you work to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Because it’s important that it doesn’t happen again. (Change “cat” to “Obama” and “marker” to “Russia” and I think you’ll see where I’m going here.)

Look, to be honest, I don’t know if it’s even possible, at this point, to change the behavior of a septuagenarian. In all likelihood, it isn’t. But it is still possible to change our reaction. It is still possible to punish the crime, and ignore the feeble attempt at a cover-up that accompanies it. All we have to do is keep our eyes on that prize.

And away from that oh-so-infuriating laser pointer.

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