Before 2008, Louis C.K. had a blunt nihilistic style that men loved. Then, he doubled his fan base by speaking the secret feelings of MOTHERS. Worldwide.
The only time I ever got fired from a job, my boss asked me for a hug.
To make him feel better about having fired me.
I hugged the f*%er.
Yesterday, I pick up Grace from school, and our daily battle over getting into her car seat ensues. Grace wants me to unwrap her ringpop first. I counter that I’ll unwrap her ring pop as soon as she’s in her car seat, because occasionally I like to think that she’s not the boss of me.
Grace doesn’t like my suggestion or my tone so she punches me in the eye. When I instinctively grab my eye and yell “OW! That hurt!”– Grace starts sobbing.
At first I think she’s crying because she realized she hurt me, which makes me feel better, until–
GRACE: (through piteous sobs) You yelled at me! You scared me! You hurt my feelings.
ME: (absolutely horrified) When I said ‘OW’, I scared you? Really?!? What about my eye!? You hit me and you hurt me!!! My feelings are hurt and so is my eye!!
GRACE: Stop YELLING at me!! (sobbing more) You KEEP scaring ME!
Now people are glancing over. Great. Old white mom can’t stop scaring or yelling at her sobbing black kid. I get in the car, stewing in hot flash fury. My expression of pain was too loud for my deeply sensitive child, the she-devil of the Ronda Rousey-esque right hook. As I drive off, listening to her sob, one hand over my still watering eye, I realize the last time I felt this much of a total idiot, I was hugging the f*&er who had just fired me.
Terrible twos are nothing compared to the Game-of-Thrones-King-Joffrey-like assholery of a 3.5 year old—sans crossbow, but pointing finger at the ready and volume turned up to 11, empathy no where to be found.
When Grace turned two I discovered manners are not native to ANY living creature. After calmly explaining twenty-five times why we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I was astonished that I’d ever have to repeat it constantly. Finally, after the millionth time I reminded her to say thank you (to ME, not even anyone special!), I snapped-
ME: Say THANK YOU!!! I’m NOT your maid!!
GRACE: No. You are my MINION.
Manners are like algebra- so alien to our true nature that someone just has to relentlessly hammer the words or numbers into your skull. So, I worked my kid over like Burgess Meredith did with Rocky.
Instead of a boxing trainer, I’m an ancient, pugnacious “please” and “thank you” thug. Honestly, I could win a MacArthur Genius grant and I wouldn’t be as proud as when she absently murmurs ‘thank you’ when I give her an Otter Pop.
Then she turned 3 and went to preschool. And that’s where she became a total effing a@%hole. There’s one kid in every class. Sammy’s the kid who looks like he was dipped in a tub full of dust bunnies before school. Even his teeth are dust bunny colored. A sad cloud of dirt appears to follow Sammy- he’s like Pigpen from Charlie Brown. One day after school, I dragged Grace on an errand and asked her about her day.
GRACE: I asked Sammy why he has dirty teeth.
ME: Sweetie! No, we don’t do that. We don’t make a kid feel bad about the color of his teeth! Teeth come in many different colors! Just like people! How would you feel if someone asked you why your teeth were so… white or your hair is so curly?
GRACE: He smells bad too. Like he’s always pooting.
I crouch down before Grace, determined to force a teachable moment down her unapologetically vicious little throat. Composing my thoughts, I look up. Sammy is climbing out of a van in the parking lot we are in. Inside the van is a man, Sammy’s father I presume from the way he’s talking and the way Sammy ignores him. And Sammy’s dad is in a wheelchair.
My child is teasing and basically deforming the soul of a sad, gray little boy who has a paraplegic father. I see Sammy’s hard future in a blink. He’s already the kid all the kids avoid or bully. And my 3.5 year old is one of his first tormentors.
I thought bullying happened later. But no. Kids are Darwinian at 3- they are busily forming a pecking order of judgment and exclusion, based predominantly on appearances— in PRESCHOOL!!
So, we have the ‘everyone is different and isn’t that awesome’ chat while wandering Target, trying to avoid Sammy and his disabled dad, in case Grace decides to point at people in wheelchairs. Grace is in the cart, but facing out, because her legs are too long to fit in the shopping cart seat which would make her only see me.
I’m scanning shelves, trying to not succumb to product overwhelm (don’t get me started on Costco) when I notice Grace staring at a woman ahead of us.
I notice that this woman is a Little Person (‘dwarf’ is uncool, sayeth Google) and this Little Person is wearing black, form fitting yoga pants. Before I can grab Grace, she blurts out in her piercingly LOUD voice.
GRACE: What a BIGGGGG butt!
To the woman’s credit, she doesn’t even turn around. Silently admiring this woman for rocking her yoga pants and living a constantly-stared-at-life I cannot begin to imagine, I turn Grace’s face to me and launch into the still warm speech about pointing and talking about other people’s differences.
GRACE: She’s so little, I thought it was her diaper.
It’s time to text my little sister, who has raised four impeccably lovely daughters. My sister coached me on how to coach Grace. Maybe it will help one of you.
“As soon as you see Grace see something unusual, she’ll probably look confused and say something like, “What’s wrong with him?”— If you see someone unusual and see her with that LOOK, head it off at the pass, pull her aside and say, “Do not point at anyone. Do not talk about a person in front of them. Tell me you want to ask me a question and we will talk about it afterwards.” If it’s happening in the moment, whisper right away, “If you see something that is different or confusing, do not stare, point or talk about the person in front of them. We will talk about it afterwards.”
If you drill it into her a few times, all you have to do is give her a LOOK and she’ll know it’s one of those situations.
Her advice was very helpful but confirmed my worst suspicion. Humans are born lovely, helpless DICKWADS and it’s our job (our unpaid job with crappier hours than Amazon, and no insurance) to make them be polite, considerate empathetic citizens of the world.
So, I start drilling Grace about the “when you see someone DIFFERENT talk” and practice my Serious-Talk face in the mirror. Then we get on the subway in Brooklyn, NY. A man steps on and sits opposite us. He’s young, black and has an eye patch. Grace hollers, staring right at him.
GRACE: Look! A PIRATE!
The one eyed man glances sadly our way. He’s not amused. Since my child and I are different colors, I look at my phone, hoping the pirate might I’m think I’m not with Grace, but then she digs her elbow into my ribs and points right at him.
GRACE: Mom?! Why is a pirate here, Mom?
I gently lower her pointing arm, while giving her the TALK in my fiercest whisper.
ME: Remember what I said about not talking about or pointing at people who are different? Remember I said, ‘Please don’t point or talk about people because it might hurt their feelings? And how you should tell me you have a question for me and we’ll talk about it later? At a more appropriate time?’
ME: (furtively whispering on a packed and loud subway) This is one of those moments. This poor man is not a pirate. He lost an eye either by being sick or in an accident. Can we please talk about this later, when it’s more appropriate?
Grace nods and sits down next to me. She smiles at me and hugs me.
GRACE: Thank you, mom.
I nod nervously, power-sweating while the pirate stares daggers at us both. Grace slaps my arm after a moment and hollers at me, jabbing her finger in my face.
GRACE: MOM. YOU DIDN’T SAY “YOU’RE WELCOME”! I’M NOT YOUR MAID, MOM!!
And as everyone on the train now turns to the little black girl yelling at her old white mother, I see the pirate grinning at us both.