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Jul 10, 201301:30 PMOpen for Business

with Jody Glynn Patrick

Wanted: A good B.S.-detector app

(page 1 of 2)

This past weekend, Kevin took our three dogs and two grandsons to an area dog park, where four of the six were soon involved in a spirited game of dog Frisbee. Finally it was Patrick’s turn to throw, and his first toss was, by my husband’s measure, “fantastic!” The second throw, too, was better than Patrick’s usual performance and earned a lot of praise, as did the third. But the fourth toss, well, not so much.

“Sorry, buddy, but that throw kinda sucked,” my husband commented, reaching down as Bailey came running back with the foam Frisbee in his mouth. The dog, at least, got a pat on the head for a good long run … sideways.

Patrick, a man-boy of 12, was crushed. On our way to Pizza Ranch for dinner that evening, he told me about the entire sorry experience in the car as I drove, adding, “I didn’t think my last throw was that bad — bad enough for Grandpa to say it sucked.”

“It wasn’t all that bad, but it did kinda suck,” Kevin insisted.

We are trying to help Patrick accept and also cope with the idea that not everything he does is perfect. We want to help him develop the mental fortitude it will take to eventually deal with the harsher real world that co-exists just outside of his supportive private school and protective family bubble. We don’t criticize him, exactly, but we do gently acknowledge that sometimes he could use a little more practice, or work a little harder, or bend over to pick up both socks instead of just one, and we do this because we love him. Still, obviously Kevin’s comment hit a nerve too near the boy’s sensitive surface.

“It doesn’t really matter, does it?” I asked, trying to help him shrug it off. “Your bad throw is probably better than my best throw any day.”

“Oh, but it does matter,” Patrick replied solemnly, “because the greatness of a man is determined solely through the eyes of others.”

Kevin and I briefly locked glances. The greatness of a man? “That’s pretty deep,” I acknowledged, glancing in the rearview mirror at the oldest of the two boys seated in the backseat. “But what exactly do you mean by saying that, honey?”  

“I mean that it does matter what Grandpa thinks,” Patrick explained. “That’s all that matters. That’s the reality of how I really did. What I think is just my own perception.”

Suddenly I was at a loss for words, which admittedly rarely happens. Does reality really reside in the opinions of others? Suddenly I was awash in memories of trying to convince a once-younger daughter that beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder when the person calling you “fat” is a mean-spirited eighth-grade girl — and of assuring a sobbing second-grade son, after being called a “dummy” by an assistant coach for missing a soccer shot, that the man was, in fact, the dummy. Now my adult children have traded playground bullies for workplace jerks. I applauded a cop daughter for Tasing a cokehead (not once, but twice) for punching her in the face and breaking her nose, and I also agreed with my other daughter that going to work with a serious cold — when you are a pediatric nurse interacting with high-risk infants in a neonatal intensive care unit — is stupid, and so yes, she was right to refuse to work that shift.

I pushed hard to reinforce a reliance on my kids’ own higher sense of right and wrong, their own value structures. I encouraged them to find and claim the courage to self-validate their own perceptions. Today, they are strong, willful people, rooted in their own convictions (which I try to remember to still embrace, since we all too often butt heads, but that’s another blog for another time).

That cluster of memories triggered by Patrick’s remark caused me to then second-guess why we are trying so hard to nudge him away from his own definition of “good enough” with regard to sometimes lackluster performances, and that, in turn, caused me a twinge of guilt. Then I noticed the ghost of his smile, and the immediate downward tug of that sly smile as his eyes again met mine, and I began to wonder how much he believed what he had just said to us. I considered (not for the first time) that my grandson is getting really, really adept at playing me lately.

“Where exactly did you hear that phrase — the measure of a man?” I asked. “It does sound exactly like something you’d say, but for some reason, I think you might have borrowed it for this occasion, laddie.”


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Jul 11, 2013 07:48 am
 Posted by  uwbiz96

As a solid member in good standing of Generation X, spending most of my adult life rolling my eyes at boomers and their children (dubbed Millenials), I assure you that there may never have been a segment of society with as refined a BS detector as we possess. It's necessary when reading the local press, actually.

Jul 12, 2013 06:44 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Ah, it's always difficult when a kid has a growth moment, but kudus to Grandpa for not offering constant (and unfounded) praise. Kids with perfectionist streaks (and I suspect Patrick is one of them) need to understand that they don't have to excel at everything, they just have to try their best and know certain people will always accept them, no matter what. There's such pressure on kids to be perfect - I know one who lost his game system after he dared get a single B in school - and that causes a lot of damage in the long run.

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