Monday, February 27, 2012

The Other Tiger Mother

My kid got into trouble today, before school had even started. We were in the chaos of the assembly hall, and another girl from her grade asked her to "come see something". My internal red flag went up (the girl is a bit of a trouble maker), but my daughter was gone before I could distract her. A few minutes later the other girl returned, solo. I asked her where my daughter was, and she pointed and said "back there".

"Where", I thought, "hanging from a hook in boy's bathroom? Standing with her pants down in the broom closet?Covered in pig's blood in the gym? Sold into white slavery?WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY KID?".

I waited a beat, and there she came. She was clearly upset and buried her head into my fattened weekend gut. I asked her what happened. She shook me off, tears in her eyes. I asked what she had "seen". She shook me off again, avoiding eye contact. I knelt down, face to face, and demanded to know what had happened. She told me that they went to the classroom to see the coral.
Oh, okay, and that was upsetting because....? 
The teacher got mad because they weren't supposed to be in the classroom yet..and the other kid "made her go in".
Ahhh, here we go. The good old Twinkie defense. First, it's breaking the rules of classroom etiquette, next it's Lois Duncan's "Killing Mr. Griffin". Fucking peer pressure.
While punishments for bad behavior occur regularly at home, my child never gets into trouble at school, so this was new territory. I explained, briefly, that no one "makes" us do anything, and that we have to be clear about who we are and what we stand for with regard to "the rules". I explained about personal responsibility and how we don't blame others when we break said rules. I briefly touched on the importance of not feeling pressured to follow other people if we don't  agree with what they are doing. I know, most adults can't grasp any of it, but it was worth a shot. She sort of got it and went to get in line. I mentioned our chat to the teacher, who took a moment to explain to my kid that she was not mad, but that she has to uphold the rules. She stood, patted my kid's head, smiled at me and said "You are a good mom". I smiled back and thought, "isn't this what everyone does?"

See, I come from the "get involved" school of parenting, meaning that if I see my kid behaving badly, I address it. I don't think that qualifies as good or bad, it is just part of the job description. If I see other kids spitting off the play structure or punching each other in the face, I tell them to stop. Perhaps this makes me overbearing, but I don't much feel like stepping in their spit, or blood, any more than my kid does. Not everyone does this. I have had many play dates where the other kid is, for example, hitting my kid with a wooden block, repeatedly. I will always step in, remove the offending block, and explain to the other child that hitting with a wooden block isn't nice and is actually kind of dangerous. The other parent would often say "we usually just let the kids work it out". "Really", I want to say, "no wonder your kid has dead eyes and zero charm, manners or social graces". 

You have to teach them how to behave.

Letting them "work it out"  sounds like a terrific modern parenting idea, but have you read "Lord of the Flies" lately? I have no intention of letting my child end up with her figurative head on a figurative stick because she needs to learn how to "work it out". She is only six and half, still believes in Santa and, despite my best efforts, thinks that heck is a bad word. How on earth is she supposed to "work it out" with a kid who has malice in his/her dark little heart and actively wants to do her emotional and/or physical harm? She wouldn't really understand what was going on until something bad happened( sort of like today) because she has no frame of reference for it. We don't tolerate that shit in my house. Cruelty is never acceptable. Meanness for its own sake is not allowed.

My kids are far from perfect, but, to the best of my knowledge, they are not Mean Little Fuckers.  I like to think that I would know if they were, and then I'd hover like a cheap Motel 6 blanket to nip that nonsense in the bud.  I did get a little paranoid recently talking to the parent of a notorious Mean Little Fucker, who was lamenting that her daughter's feelings get hurt at their school because the "other kids are so mean". I was astonished at the complete lack of awareness of her own child's Leona Helmsley-esque qualities, traits which have been apparent to everyone else since birth. Luckily, we have never had issues with her kid, but how can she be so blind? How does that behavior not make its way home? Has no one mentioned her child's penchant for making other kids miserable?

Perhaps that is the root of the problem: no one wants to point the finger, to say anything, to sit in judgment of other people's kids, to deal with it head on. They are all "just kids,after all, and kids can be mean". Well, yeah, but maybe kids wouldn't be so fucking mean if someone pointed out how shitty it is to be mean. Pretty easy concept, right? If your kid has a birthday party and you decide not to invite everyone in the class, do you want to know if he/she is teasing the uninvited kids about it? I DO! If your kid is actively planning to kill the Tooth Fairy, do you want to know that he/she is telling all the kids about his/her Spring Break trip to the Tooth Fairy's hideout, and that all the kids who still haven't lost their teeth  are in a panic? I DO!  If your kid is being possessive and aggressive on the playground and scaring the other kids, don't you want to know about it? I DO. I want to know so I can tell them to cut that shit out, NOW.

I vote for full disclosure and calling it what it is: MEAN. Not so much the Tooth Fairy stuff, which is kind of hilarious, but the "you're not invited to my party" stuff is just awful. Kids this age don't need to contemplate the complexities so humorously detailed in Mindy Kaling's book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) just yet. Most of them are still thrilled by the sight of a rainbow and about the prospect of getting dessert if they eat all of their dinner. Do we need to introduce them to the world of cattiness, exclusion and cruelty just yet? I have come to terms with the fact that other people I like are hanging out without me, and I am generally okay with it, but those people aren't circling me on the playground the next day and telling me about the amazing Indian food they had without me, either.

I think I am poised to become a playground vigilante, taking after a close female relative who often took things into her own hands. She once pulled aside someone else's mean five year old and hissed some vaguely threatening and deeply truthful things in her ear:
"Listen, you little bitch, you leave my daughter alone.You are just jealous because my daughter is prettier than you are and better at everything than you are". 
Now that's what I call a Tiger Mother.

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