Sunday, January 18, 2009
On our way to Palm Springs yesterday, my six year old son Ethan announced that I was a huge 'meanie' and he didn't like me very much. This pronouncement was not made through careful consideration or reflection - rather it was in retaliation for not agreeing to grant one of his unfathomable demands the instant it came out of his mouth.
I responded, "Well I don't like you either, so we're even."
Ethan shot me a look and said "You can't say that, you're a grownup you have to like me."
I was amused by this concept - I am required to like him - sort of like civil service or enlisting in the army. I was intrigued.
"Ethan," I responded "what makes you think that every grownup has to like you? I don't mean to be a 'meanie', but you can be a real pain sometimes."
He mumbled something about his peers receiving a RED SLIP at school for saying something benign such as "I don't like you," or "your hair looks really unflattering," or "you might want to rethink that finger painting - it's not your best." RED SLIPS. There was no doubt that this daddy would be wallpapering the downstairs powder room with red slips if I attended his school.
In addition to the dreaded RED SLIPS, Ethan went on to explain that he and his classmates were encouraged to use something called COOL TOOLS. COOL TOOLS are apparently some code of behavior that supposedly builds self-esteem in children. COOL TOOLS dictate that when another child gets abusive or too confrontational you put on your EXIT SHOES and leave the room. EXIT SHOES - the next time I'm in Gucci or Prada I'm going to get my EXIT SHOES in both brown and black. (As a man, I've come to learn that if you love a pair of shoes it's best to get them in at least two colors. While the old fashion rules such as black shoes with grey or blue slacks has become somewhat relaxed - I cannot abide black pants with brown shoes - it's just wrong!)
It was becoming painfully clear to me that in an effort to build self-esteem, my son and his fellow classmates were receiving the message that all adults (including one's parents) are required as if by law to like him. Further, in my son's world there is no such thing as freedom of speech as BIG BROTHER school board in their zeal to eliminate bullying, has also eliminated brutal honesty. In addition, when confronted with any type objectionable criticism (Is there any other kind?) our child believes that he should exit the room.
I pondered all of this as I zoomed down the freeway. What if I could live in my son's protected and privileged world? What if every person I ever met was required by law to like me? At the slightest hint of criticism or contradiction I would leave the room. All new acquaintances would speak to me in polite, dulcet tones and were encouraged to say things like "I appreciate and value your divergent opinion," or "I'm not mad at you, only the behavior," or "I really appreciate the way you've agressively tried to turn back the hands of time with Restylane injections - you simply get younger and younger!" Lost in my utopian fantasy - I failed to notice that we had passed our exit.
We continued down the freeway in silence.
"Hey Ethan," I asked "as we've gone out of our way, do you want to stop and split a date shake at Hadley's?"
Brightening, Ethan cried "That would be great...I love you Dad."
Ethan happily returned to singing his acapella version of the theme from Star Wars and I connived to I convince him to visit the Gucci outlet at Cabazon- I suddenly had an unexplained urge for new shoes.