Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The God of Carnage/The Queen of Love and Beauty

I just missed Yazmina Reza’s play “Le Dieu du Carnage” (Un Dios Salvaje) in Madrid. The premise sounds hilarious.
From Wikipedia: the play is about two pairs of parents. The child of one couple hurt the other at school, so the parents meet up in order to discuss the matter in a civilized manner. However, as the evening goes on, the parents become increasingly childlike, resulting in the whole evening going into chaos.

From the Times Online (commenting on London performance): …All the characters are unheard. Nobody gives the other person time. It’s an accurate assessment of where we’re at. There’s a real urge...to hear the word “sorry”, but nobody is willing to say it out loud because of the litigious hand that hangs over everyone now… You take two children having a fight - who says sorry to whom, and whether they should or not - and you blow that up to their parents and beyond that to any political argument. We live in a therapy culture. Nobody is at fault. But if nobody’s at fault, then nobody takes responsibility.

For those of you how live in (or are traveling to NYC), it’s set to open there, and will star Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden. I like the sub-header—“A Comedy of Manners…Without the Manners.”

I would have liked the theme anyway, but the irony is that something like that (though in no way, taken to those exaggerated levels) actually happened to me.

My oldest and, for 3 ½ years, only--child is a girl, The Queen of Love and Beauty. She is affectionate, used to have exquisite manners, still has a sly wit and a head full of blond curls. When she was younger, I dressed her in Liberty floral smocks, taught her to speak French, and took her on business trips with me. People who met the Queen congratulated me. I would look upon other people’s horrid children, and feel sorry for them. Verily, verily, the Creator looked down on my pride. And he was not pleased. He gave me three sons to teach me a lesson. And now, I’m not so pleased. The glare of other people’s judgment burns my cheeks, and the person I sometimes feel sorry for is me.

But, back to the Queen…I looked at the world and saw that it was rough place. Determined that the Queen should have advantages, I saw to it, that in addition to her schoolwork, she studied dance, so that she should acquire grace, and martial arts so that she could defend herself. So, imagine my surprise, when one day, when she was in second grade, a school administrator phones to tell me that my daughter has been struck on the face, by a boy in her class. I am taken aback. It’s not just that my daughter has taken three years of martial arts, it’s the fact that the boy who struck her is a light-weight. My daughter could take that child down in a second if she wanted to.

I asked her what had happened. There was no provocation. She said she saw the first blow coming and blocked it. This took him by surprise and he came back at her even harder with his other fist, which took her by surprise. And he hit her.

“And what next?”
“I called the playground monitor, and reported what happened, just like they taught me in the “How to deal with bullies” class in karate.

The playground monitor saw everything. The school reacted by suspending the boy for a day, since he had a prior record of that kind of behavior. The boy’s parents made him call and apologize. My daughter didn’t give the incident a second thought.

But I did. I restrained myself, but what I really wanted to tell my daughter was, “Honey, the next time somebody lays a hand on you, you take him down. You ruin the little twerp, so he thinks better before trying something like that again. Clearly my daughter is more mature than I am.

It wasn’t just the boy’s behavior that bothered me, it was the phone conversation I had with his mother before his forced apology. His mother had some sort of executive job with a title like “corporate responsibility” at a multi-national corporation. She said something like “Well I’m very disappointed in Little Twerp’s behavior, but you know how he and your daughter like to tease each other.”

I didn’t really know how to process what she said. Her son and my daughter had been friends in kindergarten, but hadn’t interacted much since that time. I wondered what part of “tease” involved striking a person on the face. It sounded as if she was dismissing extremely inappropriate behavior, making it sound as if this had been “mutual,” a simple childish flirtation. After all, “children will be children.”

But then I remembered a story my sister told me about a boy she liked in first grade. She said that she really didn’t know what to do at the time, so she ran straight into him and knocked him down. My sister was a bruiser and the boy was never tall. Not tall, but definitely charming. I remember a picture of my sister and that boy, smiling and sitting together in the branches of the oak tree in our back yard. They were teenagers, then, and still friends. Sadly, he worked for that financial company that had their headquarters in the World Trade Center. He later died in 911.

And, I wondered, maybe I was being over-sensitive, taking a childhood situation and completely contextualizing it in an adult, feminist perspective. That, being said, I am glad to say that, whatever grief my boys have given me, and that includes one year of 3-yr old preschool when I got lots of “Oops I forgot to be nice to my friends” notes--they have never, ever hit a girl.

Two of my friends had this advice: 1) When “situations” arise between your child and another child, call that child’s parent and say: “I would like to speak to ‘the aggressor child’.” Ask their child to come to your house and apologize, in person, to your child. 2) If the situation involves boy-girl aggression (this is from a friend whose buxom 8th grade daughter received some unwelcome comments from a male classmate): have your husband call the boy’s father and discuss with him. They will all take this more seriously.

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