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I Want my Apple to Come From a Better Tree

Laszlo at the Jackson-free playground

Where I live, there are two playgrounds not too far from each other. I was strolling Laszlo to one of them the other day, when I noticed that a certain kid was there. Let’s call him “Jackson” just because that seems to be every little boy’s name these days. Jackson is an out of control three year old whose parents let him get away with everything. While his parents are nice, they are also super annoying. I wanted to go to the other playground and avoid the whole family.

Jackson’s parents strictly adhere to that parenting technique which involves firmly believing in having no parenting technique. They like to let Jackson “explore.” The word “no” rarely exists in these parents’ vocabulary. And when it does, it is promptly ignored by Jackson and then the parents ignore the fact that he ignored their “no.”

As a result, Jackson is allowed to push, grab toys, and generally not play fair. He’s a brat.

Which is what slipped out of my mouth as I was approaching the playground that Laszlo wanted to go to. “Oh, no. Laz, let’s go to the other playground. That kid Jackson is there and he’s a brat.”

I know. I messed up. Not cool. I’m not supposed to talk shit in front of my kid. Sometimes I forget to edit myself around him. I talk to him so often that sometimes I forget that I can’t talk to him as if he’s my BFF.

“Why brat, Mommy?” he asked loudly. Luckily, we were still pretty far from the playground and not in earshot. (Sometimes Laz says “why”, when what he really means is “What do you mean by that?” He just turned 3, so I cut him some slack.)

Now we had to go to the other playground. Otherwise he might end up walking around this playground saying, “Why Jackson a brat, Mommy?” or “Why you a brat, Jackson?” Which, now that I think about it, might have been pretty amusing.

I know I screwed up. I know I need to become a better person: The kind of person who doesn’t say mean things about three year olds to her own kid. And becoming a better person sounds really hard.

I remembered this Freakonomics podcast I heard a few months ago. It said that children pick up on their parents’ bad behavior way more than their good behavior. So all the “positive” parenting techniques I’ve been studying aren’t going to add up to anything unless I quit saying bitchy things like my slip about Jackson.

As researcher Bruce Sacerdote notes, “You see that children are picking up their parents’ smoking and drinking habits with a very high degree of correlation… they really pick up their parents’ habits, those type of habits explicitly. Another thing that’s undoubtedly contagious is that behavior of how you interact, how you treat other people, how you treat employees at a restaurant, or a retail store or something. I think those things are probably highly contagious as well.”

Luckily, I don’t smoke and I’m nice to waitresses. But I don’t want to catch myself saying negative things about little kids in front of my son again.

And I can improve more about myself than just talking smack about Jackson. (Though that kid is a brat. But I can think it without saying it. Better yet, I’d like to not even think it.) It would be so much easier if I didn’t have to change myself, if I could just read a book about how to talk to toddlers or if I could take a seminar from some kind of parenting guru. But using those techniques are not going to make me or my kid a better person. The harsh reality of the situation is that I need to change myself for the better. How fucking hard is that? Which reminds me…. I need to swear less.

I see moms who are already raising mean girls, despite their best efforts to be a perfect mom raising well-behaved kids. Why? Because the kids are modelling their behavior after their moms and the moms are mean girls themselves, no matter how many “good” parenting books they read. You can’t mold your kids based on an excellent parenting seminar you’ve taken. Kids become who they are by modeling themselves after you. Laszlo might be a better person is if I try to become a better person.

Unfortunately, I generally think that “nice” people are kind of boring. They’re relentlessly upbeat and positive. I don’t want to go to a party with a bunch of people who talk about how awesome everything is. It sounds so fake. And repressed. But since having a kid, I’m starting to see some value in it. If I think positive things, maybe I will start to feel more positive things.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit ambitious. How about starting with not saying mean things?

And if I can’t think positive things, I’d like to at least edit myself more. Sometimes, repression isn’t such a bad thing.

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