Thursday, September 6, 2007

I'm Not Your Monkey

Yesterday, for what seems like the umpteenth time, I found myself uncomfortably working through my list of excuses on behalf of my son, Jack, who quite frankly, could have cared less. On such occasions, I’m typically standing in a line of some sort – at the grocery store, restaurant, post office – doesn’t matter really because it always begins the same. A complete stranger attempts to engage my child in some cliché repartee – “Hey there little guy” “Are you having fun, little man?” “Are you helping Mommy shop?” And inevitably, it comes delivered in the voice of someone possessed by a Christmas elf. Jack’s reaction? Blank Stare, Confusion, Total Disinterest – or my personal favorite, Furrowed Brow. His expression notwithstanding, the message is clear. “You’d be talking to me becaaause…?” Meanwhile, I find myself having an out-of-body experience as I tap dance my way through any number of possible explanations to justify his very un-PC reaction. It’s not that he’s entirely inhospitable, nor would I designate his feedback as wrought with disdain, it’s more of a “Listen…we both know this won’t be a long-term relationship, so I’d just as soon not make the investment.”

In my dreams, he’s just a little Jon Stewart in the making. The Comedy Central, “Daily Show” host made history when he snubbed CNN’s Crossfire co-host, Tucker Carlson during a heated political debate. After having been backed into a corner one too many times, Carlson had run out of eloquent steam so was forced to throw out a “Hey, you’re a comedian, say something funny” to which Stewart flatly responded, “I’m not your monkey.” I often imagine that if I could see the little thought bubble above my son’s head during these encounters, that’s what I’d be reading. Just one time I’d like to say what’s really on my mind: “Look, let’s not waste each other’s time, this is just not your day.” Or maybe, “What can I say? He’s a tough audience and you lack ‘the stuff’ to make it happen.” Truth be told, on some level, I’m envious. Oh to be unencumbered by social norms and rules of polite conversation. Why is it that somewhere on our way to adulthood most of us seem to develop an unnatural need to be accepted – admired even? At the risk of dating myself, I’ll refer to Sally Field’s 1984 Oscar speech, “You like me, you really like me!” I think in that moment she became the poster child for those of us desperate to belong.

I know he’s only 21 months old and doesn’t know any better, but I have a sneaking suspicion that even when he does, not much will change. He’s always been the kind of kid that’s so comfortable in his own skin, he doesn’t really need you to love him. Sure, he enjoys it if you do, but it’s not a requirement to help him get through his day. Like a 50-year-old woman who’s come into her own, Jack has a beyond-his-years maturity and self-confidence I only wish I had. I know there are a lot of theories out there about the afterlife, creation – the whole cycle – and only God knows the real skinny. But sometimes I just want to sneak into his room at night and whisper, “Hey, kid, you’ve been here before haven’t you?” My theory is that his lapse into slumber will somehow awaken his subconscious and he’ll crumble like a cheap suit in war-time interrogation. In my worst nightmare, of course, he’d suddenly open his eyes, turn his head slowly toward me and say, “As a matter of fact, Mom, I have been here before and f.y.i, you’re not doing such a hot job.” I suppose if that were to ever happen, a restful nights sleep for my remaining days would be out of the question. All I know for sure is that if it ever does happen, I’ll be ready with my list of excuses.