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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Master of Cool

These days my kids, Ethan in particular, are all about "cool." Either something (or someone) is "cool," or it's not. And if it's not, look out. At 4, Ethan has deemed Curious George, Mickey Mouse and Calliou (see previous post), all programs he used to love, totally Uncool. Jonas's excitement when we find a Mickey Mouse episode is quickly squelched by Ethan's protests of "But I want to watch something cool!"
"Well what's cool?" I'll ask. "Is Berenstain Bears cool?"

I'll fly through the channels. He'll stop me only for one of three shows: SpongeBob Squarepants, Phineas and Ferb (which he insists is Fern no matter how many times I try to correct him because I'm the one who can read and spell), or Dora. That's right. My son thinks Dora the Explorer is cool.

Why would a four year old care about what is cool, anyway? I sometimes wonder if I had something to do with it. I mean, I do catch myself saying "Wow, that's really cool," to Ethan alot. But it doesn't mean anything. It's more like saying "That's interesting," when you don't really know what else to say.

I suspect, however, that more than mommy here, his friends are the cause of his obsession with cool. I know he thinks this kid Lyle is cool. Lyle is in Ethan's class at school. Lyle, I'm convinced, is a bad kid. I decided this after watching Lyle try to steal a popsicle from the freezer in his classroom the other day, a crime he would have committed had it not been for his father.

"It's not yours Lyle," his dad said. "Put it back."

I could see the admiration in Ethan's eyes at the time, as though he too would steal a popsicle right in front of his mom if only Lyle had gotten away with it.
A couple of mornings later, when dropping Ethan off at class, Lyle greeted us with, "Hey Ethan, you're sweeper today. Only bad kids are sweepers."

This confirmed it for me. Lyle was evil. On my way out of the classroom, I vaguely threatened the boy. "You be nice," I whispered in his ear. "I'm watching you."
I was halfway down the hall near the exit when I heard Lyle's voie. "You're not watching me now." I turned around. He was by the door to his classroom.

"I'm watching you now," I said, creeped out by this five-year-old's, how shall I put it...balls?

I turned around and kept walking.

"You're not watching me now," he said louder this time.

OK. He had a point. I didn't have eyes in the back of my head. I turned to look at him again. He was smirking. Then, to my relief, the teacher called him back into the room.

A few days later, when I came to pick up Ethan and asked how his day was, his teacher added something to her standard answer of "Great."

"Oh, he had a great day...but well, he did hurt his friend Joey, hit him in the tummy...I think they were playing and Joey got hurt but it was an accident. And Ethan hugged him and said sorry right after."
I thought this was odd, but no big deal. Joey is a nice kid, and Ethan's best friend (according to Ethan). I was sure it must have been an accident. I asked Ethan about it and he didn't say much. At least, not at first. Then, a couple of hours later, while giving him a bath, Ethan said, "You know why I hit Joey, mommy?"

"It was an accident, right?"
"No, because Lyle told me to."

Ethan was smirking. I immediately launched into a lecture about what a great kid Joey is and how he shouldn't follow kids like Lyle because Lyle might be a bad kid and it's not cool to be a follower.

When Ethan continued smiling, I wondered if maybe he was lying. Because I forgot to mention this, but lying is WAY COOL these days.

That very same afternoon of the hitting incident Ethan's teacher had asked me if Ethan had really gone to Africa when he was three to see the Pyramids. I shook my head. "He's never even been on an airplane," I said.

"Oh well, he's got quite an imagination then," she said.

Whether Ethan was lying about the Joey incident or not, I suddenly understood how my mother must have felt when at age 11, I broke off from my innocent childhood friends to join an evil suburban Jewish girl gang led by Kelly, who just happened to be an Irish Catholic chick who was really cool. My mother thought she was a bad influence, and tried to talk to me about it then too, the way I tried to talk to Ethan about Lyle. But whatever she said had no effect because right around that time, I had deemed my mother no longer cool. At least with Ethan at age 4, maybe I still had a chance to make a difference. Maybe I still had a chance to open his mind, and teach him not to judge. To teach him that everyone was cool, in his or her own way.

Yet, like so many things we try to teach our kids, change comes slowly. For now, the cool factor continues to weigh heavy in our world. The other morning, Ethan told Jonas that his Batman pajamas shirt wasn't cool. It was a crushing blow to his little bro.
"Yes it is Ethan...Take it back. Say sorry!" Jonas lashed back.
"But it's not cool," Ethan said again.

"Mommy, daddy," Jonas said nearly in tears, "Ethan said my batman shirt isn't cool."

"Of course it's cool," I said. "Don't listen to him." I looked at Ethan and shook my head. "Ethan's not the master of cool, anyway. Daddy is. And daddy wears that Batman shirt we got him for Father's Day!"

This made Jonas smile.

"Ethan you are not the master of cool...,"Jonas repeated. "And I smelled your breath and it's stinky!"

I stifled a laugh and the little cheer I wanted to do for Jonas while thinking: now that is one cool kid.

Making a Case for the C-Word

How do you feel about Calliou? Read my piece on Making a Case for the C-Word