With the official start of Porter’s new class comes new responsibilities. For example, twice this month he is supposed to bring in very specific items for show and tell that coincide with the lesson plan for the month. Today was Porter’s first show and tell assignment, and he was supposed to bring a leopard. Since he usually wants to take only a favorite toy such as a train, plane or rocket, I started explaining to him yesterday about bringing a leopard today. It was slow going at first as he was initially opposed to the idea, but a trip to the toy store (in this case actually the craft store, Michael’s) changed his mind and he got quite excited about finding a leopard. So we found a good specimen and headed home. This morning, he remembered that he had to bring the leopard to school and a few minutes before his bus was due to arrive, he had his leopard in hand.
Then disaster struck. With about five minutes until his bus usually came, the leopard was missing. I kept asking Porter where the leopard was, and he kept pointing to and then rifling through the box of toys we keep in between the fireplace and the stereo. We frantically looked everywhere. I confess that I grew very agitated and not only did I yell at Porter to find his leopard but I also told him that I was angry with him for losing it. He was visibly upset, I’m sorry to say, but I was determined that he should learn the consequences of losing the leopard. I was very frustrated because we had gone to some trouble to make sure we were prepared for him to participate in his new class. I know it was a little thing, but it just crawled under my skin and stayed there, gnawing at me. Luckily, Sarah found a small toy leopard in a tub of zoo animals we’d gotten for Porter years ago, but had put away because they were too small for Alice to play with. So at least he had something to take to school.
But I couldn’t let go, so even after he’d left for school I kept scouring the living room for the leopard. Finally, just as I had given up, I spied it underneath the wicker basket we recycle newspapers in that sits on the opposite end of the fireplace from the toy box. I scooped up Alice and we headed for Porter’s school. When we arrived, Porter was in the hallway, just inside the main entrance sitting on a chair with his friend T.J. I think he was waiting for his trip to the bathroom. He was very happy to see the leopard, although he thought my arrival signaled that he was going home, which I had to explain was not the case. Anyway, the incident had a happy ending of sorts, but it did disrupt my morning quite a bit and I’m a little troubled with myself for how upset I was over the whole affair.
I remember as a child, always losing things and, my parents being very frustrated by my own nonchalance about finding them. And several times my mother made good on her promises to throw away toys which I had left lying around. I’d come home from school and they’d just be gone. No matter how upset I got, they never came back, either. So over time, I became very protective of my possessions. Between them disappearing and my drunken stepfather ritually destroying them, I was constantly struggling to keep them safe. Is that why I’m unnaturally attached to my possessions today? It’s probably a factor, certainly, but as an adult I hate to blame it all on Mommy and Daddy. It just sounds too new age whiny and more than a little Freudian. But it is more than a little strange to see in myself the same anger that I produced in my Mother over what is essentially ephemera. I can’t say I agree with not disciplining children or teaching them that actions have consequences but I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents did. I want to make all new ones. I recently read Lynne Truss’s follow-up to her hilarious Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which is titled Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today. In one of the chapters, she theorized that the reason that so many people today cannot admit their own mistakes (which she calls the “Universal Eff-Off Reflex“) is that as children, their parents adopted a particular way of shielding them from any blame whatsoever.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
Modern parents from all classes seem genuinely to believe that they are doing the right thing by protecting their children from blame or accountability of any sort. Every time the little chaps get themselves on a hook, the parents gently lift them down and tell them to run along and forget about it. While working-class parents pride themselves on how quickly they can march to the school and pin a teacher against a blackboard, middle-class people spend a lot of time worrying: “Is it right to tell off other people’s children?” and wringing their hands amid the shards of their favourite Chinese jardinière.
People are brought up nowadays not to split under any circumstances — least of all when an apology is demanded. Quite the reverse. Under attack, the individual personality wastes no time bolstering its defences. It circles the wagons and starts firing. Not a second is allowed for self-examination. Where this comes out in a most peculiar way is in our dealings with people who, we feel, are obliged to apologise on behalf of the company they represent, but who don’t see how they are personally involved. One of my favourite stories concerns a man buying a book. He had entered a reputable bookshop and been treated in an off-hand manner when he asked for help. Then, having located the book, he paid for it with his credit card. The assistant put the bill in the bag, and he said, “I’d like to put the bill separately, please,” at which he was told: “Well, you know where it is; you can do that yourself.” He felt aggrieved, and said so “I’ve been in this shop for five minutes and spent £30, and no one has been polite to me.” At which the assistant retaliated: “Just because you spent £30 doesn’t mean you’ve bought my soul.”
What marks out the Universal Eff-Off Reflex is contained in the name: it’s a reflex. It’s as if you touch someone lightly on the shoulder and snick, snack, the next thing you know, your hand has been severed at the wrist. It is startling partly because it’s so primitive, so animal. Through shielding children from feelings of low self-worth, we have created people who simply will not stand to be corrected in any way. “Excuse me, I think you dropped this,” you say. “Eff off,” they say, with heat. “There ought to be an apostrophe on that sign.” “Eff off.”
Personally, I see this sort of thing all the time, especially when driving. Almost every single time some yahoo cuts you off, almost runs in to your car, etc. the second you flip them off they immediately return an indignant, angry bird of their own. And this reprisal is without a second’s hesitation to consider whether or not they might have been in the wrong, so I think Ms. Truss may be on to something here.
So it may seem like I’ve veered a bit off topic, which is fair to assume since I do tend to ramble. But the truth is that I feel very strongly that I don’t want to raise my kids to not know the difference between right and wrong, and the consequences of actions, particularly their own. It just seems common sense to me that we should always be able to recognize our own wrongdoings and appropriately apologize for them when we can. Or at a minimm not instinctively lash out at our accusers without first knowing our own culpability. So it was very hard to not console Porter over the lost leopard, but it also seemed like it was very necessary for him to learn a hard lesson. Was it the right thing to do? I honestly don’t know and, as usual, I’m putting far more thought into it than is probably necessary.
He didn’t seem particularly upset when I showed up at school and seemed genuinely happy to see me so I don’t think he’s been overly traumatized by this incident. On the other hand, I’m a basket case. I can hardly wait for the teen years.