Saturday, August 14, 2010

95. Party Time

My husband has this acquaintance from work that we get together with socially. Work Guy has a 7-year-old son Zachary; Tall idolizes him. Zachary’s parents do not “believe” in discipline. They don’t want to hinder his “natural expressiveness” nor “curtail his curiosity”. The mom is the worst offender. Her default punishment is “Zachary, mon amor, have a cookie!” Her child-rearing philosophy can be summed up in one word: redirect. She is originally from France, so I wonder: is this a cultural thing? Are French people so busy looking up at the Eiffel Tower and admiring the Mona Lisa and attending film festivals and stomping their own grapes and learning to tie their silk scarves 23 different ways that they have no time left for discipline? Yes, of course, that’s the reason! But, my Theory Of French Parenting is quickly proven wrong when I remember back to my college-semester-abroad in Paris: 99% of the children I observed were well-behaved. Before we drive to a work-related function, I ask The Husband if he thinks that Work Guy and Madame Work Guy will be in attendance. “Just stop, MOV. I know what you’re going to say,” and then he continues in a sing-song voice that is supposed to be me, “They are doing that hellion no favors by not disciplining him. Just wait ‘til he’s a teenager!” Zachary is King, and he knows it. Every once in a while, I will witness Work Guy gritting his teeth and issuing a potential consequence: “Zachary! If you don’t stop tipping over the potted plants then we will have to leave.” What happens next is the beleaguered hostess will scoop up what’s left of her ferns and their (now-chipped) mosaic containers and relocate them to another part of the patio. Zachary finds new entertainment in, say, terrorizing the host’s dog. Madame Work Guy gives a halfhearted attempt to control Zach. “Zach, Darling, we don’t touch other people’s doggies, okay? Please come away from zee nice dog, okay? Look, they have a Frisbee! Let’s play with zee Frisbee, okay?” It is as if she is asking HIS permission, okay? Naturally, Tall tries to mimic his hero Zachary’s behavior. When I put an end to this, I get a whiny “But, Mommmm, Zachary is allowed to do _____ .” (Fill in the blank: climb tree to roof, kick dog, eat 5 pieces of cake). I say Something Lame like, “Well, his parents let him do different things.” Which, as you can imagine, gets me nowhere. “But then why can’t I do it, too?” Tall pleads as Zachary waves at us from the roof. I never thought I would be THIS parent, but I feel the words slip out before I can stop them, “BECAUSE I SAID SO.” Tall picks up his plate of carrot sticks and sliced apple, and walks away in a huff—defeated. Madame corners me. Uh, oh. Here we go: she is going to tell me that I am a Bitchy Mom (or whatever phrase they use in France: “Le Bitch”?) and that I need to lighten up. French people can be very blunt. I take a big swig of my Pinot Grigio, put on my game face, and steel myself for her criticism. She surprises me, “MOV, Tall is really well-behaved. You are LUCKY!” I want to scream, Luck has nothing to do with it, you lazy parent! We’ve worked six long years to get to where we are today. Discipline is not a final destination, it is a continuous uphill journey with pit-stops in Tantrum-ville and Meltdown City. The Husband and I are a tag team doling out punishment, and sometimes rewards. Madame continues, “I am Just. So. Jealous. Such a well-mannered child. You should be thankful. What a lovely disposition to be born with.” This is starting to grate on my nerves. It’s like saying to someone with a stunning garden full of 20 prize-winning rose bushes, “You are so LUCKY that your property has these roses!” That rose owner has been out there planting and watering and pruning and digging and killing bugs and working really hard. You make your own luck. “My situation is different.” Madame grows introspective. She tugs a little at her pretty scarf. “Alors, my parents were tres strict when I was growing up, we never got away with anything. My sister and I had to be on our best behavior or we would be punished. Ma mere threw my favorite doll in the trash one time! I vowed if I ever had a child, we would be friends first.” Madame puts the final nail in the coffin. Her eyes fill with tears as she confides, “Zachary does not treat me as a friend; he is disrespectful. I cannot understand it.” She sighs and adds, “Even though he’s intelligent and funny, he does not have friends. The mothers have stopped inviting my child over.” This is The Moment. Here is where I can tell Madame, hey! in America, we have what’s called Parenting Classes! I open my mouth to say it, and fate intervenes. Zachary is screaming at the top of his lungs, tears streaming down his pale face. He runs to Madame. He grabs her white (Christian Lacroix?) skirt and unintentionally smears an ugly combination of chocolate cake and blood all over it (the skirt is now reminiscent of a Jackson Pollack painting gone awry). Zachary has been bitten by the dog. The cut on his leg ultimately requires five stitches for Zachary and two Valium for Madame. The next day in the car, Tall is recounting the story to Pal on the way to summer camp. He is unaware that I am listening intently and watching him in the rear-view mirror. Pal leans in and says, “What happened next?” Tall whispers something back which makes Pal laugh uproariously. And then the clincher: Tall shakes his head somberly and says, “That Zachary. He is going to get himself killed one of these days.” MOV (“Madame’s Opportunistic Victim”)


  1. Ugh. That's pretty painful. I fear the end of this story will not be a good one.

  2. what's truly painful is my lack of formatting! sorry! when I initially typed these, they were correct, but some weird thing happened with blogger. I corrected most of the essays, but obviously did not get to them all.

    as for the kid, he behaves well around his grandparents, because they rule with an iron fist!



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