Alien encounters are said to follow a recurrent theme: bright lights, anesthesia, probing. Other nightmares include showing up without clothes to an exam for which you are unprepared. Being pursued by soldiers intent on inflicting grievous bodily harm is another. I had a bad dream last night worse than any of the above. I was trapped in a room with a woman who wouldn’t stop talking. This is what she said:
“Of course I pee in the pool. That’s why they have staff. If they didn’t want me to pee in the pool, they should have put the bathrooms closer to my cabana. The pool is big enough. No one would notice. How big is the pool? I don’t know. The size of the pool has something to do with volume. I don’t know how to figure out volume. That’s why I have accountants. Or possibly mathematicians. I have somebody on staff who knows how to figure things. Of course I don’t believe in science myself. Those scientists say I should wear a mask, that wearing a mask protects other people. Hello! Why in the name of all that is good and holy would I care about helping other people? Wearing a mask is an abrogation–whatever that is–of my civil rights. I don’t have to wear a mask I’m not going to.
“Of course, everyone else should wear a mask, especially if their wearing a mask is helpful to me. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am special. My family is special and my children are especially special. Some woman at the parent-teacher conferences last year got in my face. She said I had monopolized all the time for questions and there wasn’t time for anyone else to ask a question about their child. Again, Hello! Did I tell her to have children? I most certainly did not. My child deserves extra time because he is smarter than all the other children. Also dumber. My child is taller than all the other children and shorter than all the other children as well. Of course my questions about my child, who is the fastest runner on the high school cross country team in addition to being the slowest, need more time and attention.
“That rude woman who wanted to ask a question about her child–can you imagine?–reminded me of that unbearable police officer who stopped me this morning for cutting into a line of cars. No one was using the off ramp on the expressway so I zipped by 20 cars who were waiting their turn and pushed my way back in ahead of them. The police officer didn’t understand that I was late because I was taking a bath in milk after a leisurely breakfast of endangered animals. What? Did the police officer want me to get indigestion from choking down the fried manatee and braised condor too fast? And how is it her business that there are children in our community who don’t have any milk to drink because I take a bath in fresh milk several times a day? Did I tell their parents to have children? Of course not! I don’t even know those people. How can I be expected to be concerned about whether or not they have milk to drink?
“That’s why I don’t care about Police Lives Matter or Black Lives Matter or anyone’s life mattering. Only my life matters. And the life of my son. Did I mention how especially special he is? He would be at the top of his class except that one of his idiot teachers said that my son should be doing his own work. Did you ever hear of anything so idiotic? Why would I have hired tutors to do his work for him if he were going to do his own work? That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. And then the teacher went on and on about something called ‘plagiarism.’ Is that even a word? If my son’s tutors aren’t allowed to copy and paste from something called Wikipedia then why is Wikipedia out there where anyone could use it?”
Fortunately, at this point I woke up.
But this woman, an amalgam of folks whom you and I have met, does exist. She buys more toilet paper than she and her family can possibly use. Indeed she uses any and all resources indiscriminately. She is unaware of the social contract by which we all contribute to infrastructure–roads, hospitals, schools, parks, research–that benefits everyone.
If her self-absorption and shortsightedness were only accelerating the destruction of the planet on which we all depend, our frustration and disgust would be of a political nature–and an inappropriate topic for my Tuesday musings. It is her bad parenting not her selfishness that is my issue: by blathering on to her son’s teacher about how special her son is, she communicates a damaging message to her son. Her conspicuous consumption is concerning enough, but conveying that her son is somehow different, better, exceptional, is a recipe for angst down the road.
If her son does indeed cover five kilometers faster than anyone in the history of the world, the cheering spectators and the stopwatch on the jumbotron will so inform him. Whereas if he is a back-of-the-pack cross country runner, allowing him to make his own meaning from his training and his performance will be to his benefit. Maybe I could have run faster if I had made it to more practices is a more valuable insight than I wish mom would finish bribing the officials and other runners so I could get back to. selling Xanax.
Our kids are special because they are our kids not because they are different or better than somebody else’s kids. We love our kids for who they are, not for what they do. We accept them with their imperfections. And we model for them that everybody takes a turn, that what we have is enough, and that cutting the line is wrong.
Cultures are made up of communities just as communities are made up of families. By ignoring her commitments to her neighbors, she models for her son that he is not responsible for his actions or the consequences thereof. Denying her son the accomplishment of a job well done never mind the lesson of overcoming adversity is–ahem–a nightmare.