Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Camping in Castle Valley one year, we had a pack of boys, and my nephew Sam, then 4 and the youngest, was in the thick of it. The others climbed up on a tall boulder; he hurried up, too. They clambered to the very edge ” and Sam sashayed there.
When my sister Lucy shouted up a warning, he sputtered, “Stupid mother!”
“What did you say?” she called up. “Sam, I will put you in the car right now!”
Sam turned a carefully blank face straight at her and said, “I was just saying, ‘I love you, Mom.'”
That brought back a distant, near-forgotten memory: of my own son Teddy at 3, saying, so sweetly, “Mama, thank you for loving me.” ” and, half a second later, “Can I have one more tiny little crumb of cake?”
Children are con artists. Short-statured, fresh-skinned operators, wheeling and dealing and wheedling. The cons are so numerous that certain variations are detectable. All versions, however, are predicated on unremitting ” often maternal ” love.
Sam’s honeyed words above, of course, are basic conning. He didn’t want to be in trouble, which would inconvenience ” hinder ” him. Sam’s cons were usually reflexive, to elude. Teddy’s, on the other hand, I remember as generally proactive. He looked from point A to point B and thought creatively about how to get there, especially if obstacles were to be expected.
Just after turning 4, Teddy grew enamored of the kicking, fighting Power Rangers of video fame. Once I glanced downstairs as he sat watching one with his brother, then barely 1. Suddenly Teddy climbed up on the back of the couch, and sprang, pouncing down upon the unsuspecting baby. “I still sort of remember looking down and seeing him there,” he reflects today, “and his round belly.”
That moment marked, of course, the end of Power Rangers videos for the foreseeable future. Soon after, my brother Ted visited, and Teddy craftily asked if he would like to watch a Power Ranger video. Uncle Ted affably said sure. Teddy called upstairs: “Mom, Uncle Ted wants to see a Power Ranger video.” In concerned, sympathetic tones, he added, “He’s never seen one.”
Some cons are opportunistic. Lucy once visited a boyfriend’s family, which included the small niece Marit whom he was very eager to see. Marit then proceeded to take an adoring interest only in Lucy, about which the slightly crestfallen beau was an excellent sport. When Lucy and he eventually prepared to depart, Marit wept piteously. As others consoled her, Marit, between huge sniffs, suggested, “I might feel better if I had some ice cream.”
As children get older, they may even expand their efforts to seek collusion. One child of a friend neglected his homework to the point that his teacher sent a letter home, to be signed by a parent. The boy forged his mother’s signature. When his rendition was questioned, he hastily called his mother, and, citing the strictness of the school, urged her to say the signature was hers. (She declined.)
My friend Karen, who has four children aged 7 to 20 and has seen it all, thinks such crude attempts are probably good, for children to try out different ways of being, and learn that conning doesn’t work very well. Otherwise, she thinks, they might wonder if that’s what they should do. The trouble, of course, is that it may take another decade, during which they become more skilled, before kids entirely grow out of it. Well do I remember our pleasant, bland expressions as we adolescents aped through alibis.
I know a teenager who popped someone at a party, hurting his own hand, and the next morning told his mother that he had fallen on it getting off a bus. She took him to the doctor, who looked at the x-ray and said, “We call this a ‘boxer’s fracture.’ How about telling us what really happened?” The truth tends to be just below the surface.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com.
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That sideline parent is me, parading to the field with a foldable chair, carrying an iced-coffee, armed with a bag of band-aids and a salty vocabulary ready to slay the referee or opponent that meddles…