Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to "My Son Has A Scar!"

Back when Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were running around, nobody made a big deal about two ten-year-old boys punching each other in the nose.  Fast forward to the year 2011 and the film Carnage, Roman Polanski's screen adaptation of Yazmin Reza's play, and you get the current lay of the land:  two sets of parents, one ultra politically correct and the other Yuppies, marked by the prominent string of pearls and the never-silent cell phone, meet to discuss an "unfortunate incident" between their two eleven-year-old boys, in which one clonked the other with a stick, knocking out a tooth.  We never see the boys, and the parents run the gamut from clenched-teeth grins as they compose an e-mail to the insurance company to vomiting, drinking, yelling, slamming a pocketbook at the ceiling, throwing a bouquet of tulips to the floor, and all-around bad playground behavior.
One day when he was in first grade, my highly energetic younger son was playing with a friend, and got carried away, gleefully slamming some article of furniture in such a way that the other boy fell, was cut badly, and needed two stitches.  Our son came home in such a well-behaved state that I knew something must be up and I didn't have to wait long to find out: "Now, Mommy, I didn't do anything," he began, "and it wasn't my fault."  What wasn't?  I didn't get a clue until the next day in school, when his teacher was talking to the other boy's mother and both told me that my son had not apologized.  My husband and I spoke to him and he phoned the other boy and apologized, and apologized to the parents too.  It had been an accident, after all.  Then the other boy's father telephoned.  He thought our son didn't really take the incident seriously enough; he thought he had heard him giggling about it at school.  I had heard a nervous giggle myself, and our son apologized again.  He and the other little boy are good friends, and at this point only the parents remembered the incident.  They phoned us again. 
"You know, we had to pay for a taxi to the hospital!"
"We'll pay it!"  my husband said.  Then they didn't want us to pay.
"You know, that's not the point," the boy's father said.  "My son WILL HAVE A SCAR!"
"I'm very sorry that your son will have a scar," I said.  "I know that's very unpleasant."
"My son will have a scar!" he wailed again and again, until I felt like I'd been buttonholed by the ancient mariner.  Should I tell him to try Vitamin E oil, I wondered?  And I wanted to ask:  "Weren't you ever a seven-year-old boy?  Did you never get into trouble yourself?"  It wasn't as though our kid went around giving other children scars daily.  No one else in his class ever had a scar courtesy of him.
That was the last we heard of that one, but three years later, when he was nearly ten, I went to pick up his younger sister at school.  She looked worried, and told us that a certain Mrs. X, known as the bitchiest teacher in the school, the one who told a nine year old that his painting wasn't on the wall because it was "shit," had told her, "Do you know what kind of trouble your brother is in?"  My daughter went on to tell me this meanie had said there was blood all over the stairs because of her brother and I had better go to the teacher room.   I did go to the teacher room, where the headmaster rolled his eyes and said there had been an incident.  Our son had punched somebody in the nose.  Teachers were talking about who did what first to whom.  A younger teacher walked in and told us the other boy had shoved our son several times, been told by him to "leave me alone," had shoved him yet again and called him "Hitler."  Since we're living in Germany, this particular insult tends to pack, so to speak, more of a punch than elsewhere. And so our kid punched him right in the nose and "There was"--allegedly--"blood all over the stairs!"  Our kid at this point walked into the teacher's room, or had been sent there, and said, "Aw, Mommy, it was only a few drops."  And I made it clear to the headmaster that he was sorry, and he said he was sorry, and I also made it clear, and you should too, that the matter should remain between the other boy's parents, the school, and us.
On the other hand . . . would that scenario get us right back to Carnage?

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