Catching up today over coffee, my friends and I were (gasp!) discussing our children. And one of the threads was so interesting to me that I thought I would continue the conversation, albeit by myself and without the three-dollar latte, guess where we were.
We were talking about authority--specifically kid's lack of automatic respect of. My friend's son had disobeyed a teacher and we were talking about how he viewed the situation. Now don't get me wrong: I struggle constantly with my internal Because I Said So voice, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't give Jake the if-you-don't-play-by-
and-quit-cracking-your-knuckles-it's-annoying talk. But I have to wonder about the world that we're presenting to children. And are my rules their rules?
It's not just that I think this kid is cool in a Question Authority tee-shirt wearing kind of way (which I do), it's that I also believe fervently that it isn't all his fault. This is a great, respectful kid whose young brain can't completely wrap around our notion of "do what the teacher says" and his generation's notion of "why should I when what he wants me to do is stupid?" When I step outside of my old, floater-filled eyes and purvey the world with their vision, I see it all a little differently. To an adult, OJ's acquittal upset us with a disappointing shock, a huge example of how the system sometimes seemingly fails us. But to a child or a teen, is it merely another time proving the rules are different now?
I was pulling into a store the other day and, with a car behind me also looking for a spot, chose to pull ahead of an empty place and wait for a car that would soon be backing out. I wasn't in a hurry in that moment--she could have the open spot. But she misunderstood my magnanimous act for one of stupidity. With my blinker on, she could see she was stuck behind the loser waiting for a space. With all her hand gestures and horn blowing behind me, she missed the open spot. She finally did see it, and whipped into it angrily.
I rolled down my window, as I had not received my space yet, this is Boca and the woman pulling out was clearly one hundred and ten. "Hi," I called to her. "I was just letting you have that spot."
Her moment of contrition was non-existent. She was around twenty years old and had no time for my over forty nonsense.
"I KNOW." She rolled her eyes. "It was obvious that's what you were doing. I'm not an idiot."*
Rude? Yes, to me. And to anyone else to whom I tell the story. But when I think about it, it had some elements of generational discordance to it. I am not saying that I wouldn't have appreciated something more genteel, nor am I saying that all young people are this way. She hasn't thought about it since, I am sure, and probably didn't even mean it as insidiously as I took it. It wasn't much different than the flippant comments she grew up hearing on sitcoms, it's just that she said it to me. I have a face that I attach to every conversation I have. She probably online dates and text messages her friends. I was a nobody to her at that moment--why should we even talk?
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox. But there's an advantage of my looking at it this way. Certainly I am not embracing a society that speaks to each other with such a lack of compassion. But the fact is that people are talking like that. And while I can try to present another style to my children, maybe I can take it a little less personally when Jake says his "Whatever", or Olivia--when I tell her she can not have a cookie in the car--says, "Turn around and drive, Mom," small finger pointing in the air. They are polite most of the time, but sometimes they talk to you the way they are hearing all of society talk.
Or maybe, by tomorrow, I will again hit Jake in the back of the head, Italian-style. Because I said so.
*You so are.