Sunday, April 15, 2012
Angry Birds and Major Attitude
I turned my back the other day and my 5-year-old turned into a teenager.
In real time, he's still 5. But some of the things coming out of his mouth suggest the edgy cocktail of scorn and self-consciousness more common to a 15-year-old.
"I can't wear that shirt. It doesn't look good. No one will know who I am."
"I hate this haircut, Mom. It makes me look like a little kid."
So I asked myself the classic parental-existential question, equivalent to Hamlet's little "to be or not to be" thing.
Where is he getting this from?
Certainly Scott and I have never intentionally shamed him. (Too much in that department lingering from our own childhoods.) So why, then, does the thought of wearing a new shirt to school or donning a costume fill him with such disdain and dread? Lots of kids like to wear costumes. Most boys his age don't care what they wear.
But our little guy is suddenly, excruciatingly, aware of it all.
On Thursday the kids at his preschool were told to "dress as farmers" for a butter-churning experiment. Absent overalls and a straw hat, the best thing I could do was a flannel shirt I'd been saving for fall, a camo neckerchief, and a tractor shirt he hasn't worn in a year. My sweet friend Tracy thoughtfully loaned me a few sprigs of hay from a bale in her yard. You know, like an accessory.
"Let me just stick this bit of straw in your pocket," I suggested to my son. "To complete your costume."
He plucked them out with a scowl. "That," he said, "will be staying at home."
These are the words we are not allowed to use to describe our son, his accomplishments, his toys, his friends, animals, the weather, the mountains, or anything else in his 5-year-old milieu:
The one word he will accept:
And that's it. Sometimes he'll allow "awesome," if he's feeling especially generous. Here's a kid who still can't manage to button his own Levi's but can navigate a smartphone with striking finesse. He scores embarrassingly high on Angry Birds and adores Pandora, scrolling expertly through the list of stations with his stubby index finger to look for the hard rock. (He's memorized the icons.) He insists on the Rolling Stones, the Replacements or Nazareth. For bedtime. For a while, I tried to urge him toward more soothing fare: Bob Marley, Gillian Welch, Nick Drake, R. Carlos Nakai.
"Not those. Not those," he said irritably. Scroll, scroll. "I want the rock and roll."
If there's an antidote to all this attitude, it's a sudden blossoming of some surprisingly sophisticated, if rarely exhibited, manners. When we were in St. Augustine last week for Easter, Beau and I found ourselves suddenly alone after a busy day at the beach and visiting with relatives.
"So, Mom," he said softly. "I haven't talked to you all day. What do you think of St. Augustine?"
This morning he inquired, all sweetness, of his father: "So, Daddy, how is your sunburn today?"
"Why, Beau," I commented. "What a nice thing to say. You're getting to be a lovely Southern gentleman."
He growled at me. Actually growled.
"You mean cool."