Jeer madness

We don’t call people names. Everyone knows that. It’s a big rule with parents, and an even bigger rules in the schools, which are currently primarily occupied with bullying kids into … not being bullies.

So, as a sarcastic, blogger-type, I have to watch myself around The Elder, who hears everything. Most recently, I offhandedly called someone Machiavellian. (For shame!)

The Elder heard me say that unusual, colorful, guttural, polysyllabic word. He giggled, very loudly, since he’s the offspring of nerds, and likely bound to join the horde of nerds — the yuppie diaspora — in a very short time. If he’s not hopelessly labeled as a bully for yanking the skin around his eyes downward when it was “scaring” another 4-year-old, who apparently needs to grow a pair. (But don’t they all?)

He started asking questions: “What’s Machy-vellin?”  I think I described it as “sneaky,” and pointed to a pretty cat on the sidewalk. “Look there!” But it didn’t work to distract him, so I can foresee the preschool teacher’s reaction right now, after having had to deal with a 20-dollar word on a 13-dollar-an-hour wage.

“He called someone Machiavellian again today. Honey, we don’t call people ruthless, conniving dictators at our preschool. I think that hurt Cody’s feelings. He apologized and made up, but no more middle Renaissance slurs, OK? Let’s try to keep our adjectives from at least the postwar era, for all the kids’ sake.”

Of course, I have to admit, I’m having a few issues with observing the name calling rules myself. After we went to see “Gnomeo and Juliet” — a cute movie, and I never want to find myself describing anything shown on a screen as cute, particularly  a cynically conceived and brazenly marketed British flick — I joked with the Elder that he was a garden gnome, too.

“I am not a gnome!”

“Are you a red gnome or a blue gnome? I bet you’re blue because you like blue, huh? You’re the blue gnome!”

“I am not a gnome! I am not a gnome! I am not a GNOME!” he said, screaming, crying and wildly gesticulating. “Mommy, you stop calling me names!”

Well, OK, then. Seems the kid can dish it out, but isn’t prepared to be called your kitschy garden-variety statuary.

Me? I’m frequently taunted with the “Toy Story 3” jeer thrown at the Ken doll: “You’re a girls’ toy!”

Or even better, in a surge of a bit of the old preschool ultraviolence: “Mommy, I’m going to eat your head off!”


But it all does make me wonder. If he shows up at kindergarten next year playfully calling someone a Wookiee, are we done for? Nothing but juvenile hall and military schools ahead? What are the rules, in a world where even playful, affectionate teasing is viewed as over the line?

–Jillian O’Connor