By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer
We are a highly supportive family and though we often practice sarcasm and indulge in mocking comments, we are committed to supporting and listening to each other seriously. Often.
We actually have family meetings where we encourage each other and try to promote a general sense of harmony intertwined with positive feelings. We take daytime talk show advice very seriously.
So when my 11-year-old told me that he had been offended, I kept my affect flat and intently stared into his eyes. Could he be serious? Due to a weak grasp of pop psychology, I sensed it was necessary to keep quiet to encourage him to expound on his revelation.
The strategy worked. “You said I was lazy.”
It was true that I had said that, but he clearly didn’t catch the fact that I was complimenting him. At the very least, I was not actually insulting him. It’s disturbing when words are taken out of context. Obviously, I just needed to remind him of the entire conversation and why these seemingly harsh words were uttered from his doting mother’s mouth.
He was in the midst of tween angst and irrational despair on the day of the incident. He was following me incessantly with a whine in his voice. His posture was that of a melting Hershey bar and his heavy sighs could be heard across the house.
“I’m so dumb!” The lament was tedious and rang of false self deprecation. It was uttered in a way that invited reassurance, which, by the way, I give almost excessively. I had no confidence as a child so I tend to overly praise my children; it’s the age-old attempt to fix myself through them. You know how they say that it doesn’t work that way? They’re right.
“I’m so dumb!” The stress fell on a different word with each repetition.
“He clearly didn’t catch the fact that I was complimenting him. At the very least, I was not actually insulting him.“
This is where my great and reassuring parenting came into play. I believe he may be many things, but he is not dumb. I told him that. He is lazy. I told him that, too. He needed to know that he neither lacked intelligence nor the ability to learn. He was just not doing his work. Obviously, that is a compliment. He has potential. How could he misconstrue that?
I looked him square in the eyes. I wanted to make sure he was not using that special sarcasm gift we so cherish in this family. I studied his movements; body language does not lie. He was seriously distraught over the thought that he could be lazy. Apparently he just didn’t like the truth.
This whole episode made me recall another recent experience where I was perhaps inadvertently sending another offensive message.
When my German mother passed away last spring, her German brother and her German childhood best friend took the first flight from Germany to attend the services. While preparing for their stay, I would post Facebook updates about my progress and discuss my proceedings with friends. I frequently referred to them as “The Germans.” For example, “The Germans will stay with me.” “The Germans will arrive in a few days.” “I hope the Germans have a safe flight.” It seemed logical, since it was an accurate, but concise, way to describe the pending arrival of both my uncle and a family friend.
At this time, another family member told me that I should probably stop referring to them as the Germans because it was offensive. I am apparently very good at offending unintentionally. Naturally, I was horrified. What had I done that was so awful? She explained. I called them German.
I felt briefly enlightened before logic took over and I had to furrow my brow to help with contemplation. We began a back-and-forth conversation that left me exhausted with the beginnings of a migraine. Her argument was that they would be upset if they found out they were known as the Germans. I tried to tell her that they were German, thus negating any potential problems. I let her know that if someone referred to me as American, I would have to acknowledge that as fact. She continued to argue the Germans would feel bad to be so classified. After 10 minutes of mind-wrenching dialogue, I just nodded my head and wandered away to make up the beds for the Germans; I mean visitors.
I stopped thinking about my previous offensive behavior to focus on my distraught child. My head hurt. I felt I needed to reassure him. Again.
“Get over it. Do your work.”