Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Birth of a Super-Know-It-All

And so it begins. Today I witnessed an event common across the world (or, at least, in those parts of the world where children exist), yet heretofore unseen in my own home. Like a celestial event, it happened in a dizzying flash and marked the dawning of a new era. It was the birth of a new star – the super-know-it-all.

As six-year-old Grace had her arms outstretched, spinning in one spot as if she were a helicopter rotor, she collapsed to the floor in a fit of dizziness, announcing, “The house is spinning.” I replied, “No, it’s not, you were spinning and now it feels like the house is spinning, but it’s really not.” Confidently and matter-of-factly, she said, “No, the house really is spinning.” I debated attempting to explain equilibrium and the inner ear but quickly decided I’d be in over my head after the second sentence of that conversation. I was going to let it go because, as I have learned over the years, sometimes it’s just easier to let someone think they’re right, even when they’re wrong. This is usually the case with children, as well as curmudgeonly old people. But then the unexpected happened. Grace changed tactics on me and came out with, “You know, Mom, the house is spinning because it’s on the earth; and the earth is always spinning.” And so she had me…on a damn technicality, of all things.

The episode shook me, as I realized that this is the beginning of my end. I was immediately brought back to my younger self, circa late-1980s, when I, too, was a smarty-pants know-it-all. I mean, even more so than I am today. The event brought to mind occurred when I was in seventh grade – possibly eighth – so, obviously, I was a frightful mess of pre-teen hormones and sass. The episode in question involved a Teen Beat-generated poster of Billy Hufsey, which I had secured to my locker with magnets. Sure, the school handbook specifically outlawed taping posters to lockers. But I knew the rule and I didn’t have my picture of Billy Hufsey (who was posed in front of a shower stall, wearing only a white towel wrapped around his wet body) taped. As I said, I used magnets and I figured, if an objection ever came up, my magnet vs. tape argument was going to win the case for me, on a brilliant technicality.

One day, Mrs. Parente, while patrolling the halls and searching for wrongdoing, called me out. She told me – in a stern fashion, as I recall – that my towel-clad Billy Hufsey poster needed to come down, as posters were not allowed on locker doors. I politely let her know that the school handbook said nothing was to be taped to the lockers, and that my picture wasn’t taped. Therefore, I smugly told her, I was not in violation of any school rules. Oddly, she didn’t care. She was probably more of a wholesome-Kirk Cameron-fan than a towel-clad-Billy Hufsey fan. She told me to take the poster down, I told her I didn’t have to.

She didn’t see things my way; and the matter got referred to the school principal, Mr. Wally Harris, who, due to a receding hairline, was widely known as Mr. Hairless. He was also known (unfairly, I can say now) by another nickname, which would not be fit to print and was likely completely undeserved. From my safe distance of years and maturity, I would suspect that few people – excluding parents - are as maltreated as middle school teachers. Anyhow, Mr. Harris, who was clearly prejudiced against me because of the siblings who had come before me, didn’t appreciate my argument and would not admit that I was right. Though he never did admit that I had them on a technicality, I am still convinced – 20-plus years later – that I was completely in the right.

I had little recourse but to take the darn picture down. So I did, and then I put it back up, with magnets again, behind my coat. It wasn’t because of my great love of Billy Hufsey, even though he was pretty dreamy in that poster. Sure, I knew the poster was inappropriate in a middle school girl’s locker, but that wasn’t the source of the contention. There was no prohibition against magnets, and that was why the poster went back up. I was just mad that no one would acknowledge the loophole I’d found.

Which is why I acquiesced to Grace’s argument. When you’re right, you’re right, and I wasn’t about to argue with her reasoning. Grace is so much like her dad in so many ways, but today I was so proud – and nervous - as I got that quick glimpse of myself, and that glimpse of what I am going to be up against as the years go by. She’ll probably be a smarter, better version of myself…a Kelly-2.0, though hopefully less stubborn and quick to judgment. Grace’s broad knowledge base (already, despite her status as a kindergartener) and Nadia’s general kick-ass-and-take-names-later-personality have been secretly worrying me for a while now; and I fear it won’t be long before I am dethroned – in a hormonally-charged, violent coup, I fear - as Resident Expert on Most Things. Once Grace, with her cool head and calculating arguments, and Nadia, with her quick temper and disdain for being parented, truly join forces against me and Mike, a new reign of terror will begin. Life around here will probably be a lot like life for a middle-school teacher, albeit without the rest on weekends and summer vacations. Egads.

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