Fatty Fatty Two By Four
But its what fourteen year old boys do. I know this. Apparently, it's an inherent part of the male experience; a rite of passage if you will. As a male, you have to learn how to trash talk, or you become the victim. You have to trash talk in order to demonstrate that you are not easily cowed. That you can laugh at yourself. That you are not some pansy ass who gets hurt or offended by mere words.
This seems to hold true for adult males as well.
Have you seen the movie Gran Torino? There's a scene in the movie where Walt is trying to teach the quiet, passive Thao, how to trash talk. (WARNING: foul language, may not be SFW.)
Most of the time, it's friendly, believe it or not. But sometimes, there is an agressive edge to it just beneath the surface. Sometimes, the smiles hide true malice. But with boys, it's momentary. Someone calls someone a pussy. Someone calls someone else a faggot. They tell each other to fuck off...and it's done. Five mintues later, they're asking to spend the night together.
It always amazes me when this happens. Because if there's one thing I remember from my youth...girls know how to hold a grudge. Oh yes. A girl will make you PAY. And pay. And pay.
So anyway...most of the time, I turn a deaf ear to the trash talk. I endure it and don't interfere. Much.
But yesterday, as the boys were huddled together under the meagre shade of a portable awning waiting for a game to start, my son crossed a line. And I was mortified.
Let me preface this by saying that my eldest son is a genetic aberration in a family full of stolid, round faced, heavy limbed Eastern European peasant stock. He is tall and slender. His limbs are impossibly long, his frame devoid of any excess fat. He has never had an issue with his weight, and probably never will. He is a naturally thin person, which is as much a result of his personal habits as his genetic make-up.
He escews butter, gravy, mayonnaise. He never eats when he's not hungry. He will often wrinkle his nose when offered some sweet inducement. When he does snack, he chooses popcorn, pretzels, a boiled egg, a slice of cheese, a leftover chicken leg, a slice of deli meat.
He is truly blessed.
There is a young man on his team who looks like he sprung forth from the Antagonist family tree. He is stocky and well padded. Solid and strong, but not nimble or quick. He is acutely aware of this and tries to compensate by being the best catcher and batter he can possibly be. Those of you who don't have boys and aren't into baseball might not realize it, but a good catcher; one who won't let anything by him, is absolutely essential to a team's success. And he is good. Really good.
He and my son are particularly well acquainted, being catcher and pitcher. So he and Pubescent One were bantering back and forth, trash talking, poking fun, messin' around.
"You throw like a girl." he said to my son.
Pubescent One grinned. He doesn't throw like a girl and he knows it. So does everybody else. Thus, the insult was accepted with good grace. He countered with...
"Oh yeah? Well you're fat."
I gasped in horror.
The young man grinned as widely at Pubescent One's insult as Pubescent One had at his. He had no choice. But I knew he was smarting from that.
"Pubescent One Antagonist! That is OVER the line!" I said.
"We're just kidding around Mom." His tone was bewildered.
"I don't want to hear that again." I warned.
"Yes Ma'am." he said contritely.
I didn't say anything more, because I didn't want to embarass the other child further by making a big deal. But later at home...
I asked him how he would feel if someone called me fat. Or his Dad. Or his brother. Or his grandfather, who is a very, very big man, but one of the most gentle, loving, generous people you would ever meet.
"Bad." he admitted.
"Why?" I prodded.
"Because I know it would make you feel bad."
"But I was just kidding Mom! I didn't mean it. I like Catcher."
"It doesn't matter if you meant it or not. It hurt him. He had no choice but to sit there and act like it didn't, but it did. That child has never been anything but nice to you has he?"
"No Ma'am. But it's just what we do, you know that."
"I do know that. And most of the time, I don't say anything, even though I don't like it. But there is a fine line between good natured trash talking, and personal insults that cut deeply. You crossed that line today buddy. You have no idea how hard it is to be fat. You have no idea how bad it makes you feel about yourself. You have no idea how much it hurts when somebody calls you names. But I watched Aunt Antagonist struggle with it her whole life, and now I'm watching your brother struggle with it. And even Dad and I have to deal with it from time to time. Remember that time you were in fifth grade and some little pissante was teasing you about your fat Mom? How did that make you feel?"
"Sad. Because you're not fat and you're a good Mom."
"Well, Catcher is a good ball player and a good friend, and he doesn't deserve to be made to feel bad about himself. And you know what else? You can't unsay that. You can apologize, but it won't erase those words. He will always remember that you called him fat. And it will always hurt his feelings, because now he has realized that what you see first when you look at him is not a friend, or an excellent catcher, but a fat kid."
He was silent a moment, processing what I had said.
"I think I'll apologize anyway."
"That would be a nice gesture."
"Okay. Mom? I'm sorry I embarassed you."
"You didn't embarass me, dude, you embarassed yourself."
Later, I heard fervent murmurs coming from his room. I'm hoping those were the sounds of a heartfelt apology. But I don't know. I don't know if he can really understand how hurtful his words were and why it was different from calling someone a douchebag or a queer (though I don't like that one either) or a retard (ditto).
Life is easy for him. He is intelligent and self confident. He makes friends easily, girls fall all over him. He is tall, slender and naturally athletic. He is highly adaptable and fits into new situations with ease.
I worry about that.
Because people have to suffer some kind of heartache or hardship to develop empathy and compassion. He's really and truly a nice kid and I do know that he really didn't mean to hurt that other kid's feelings. He simply has no frame of reference for how deeply such words can wound.
Sigh. You'd think I would just be content and enjoy the fact that one of my children has it easy in life, wouldn't you? But no. I can't.
Because I don't want my son to be an asshole. And I'm sort of afraid he's heading down the asshole highway in a big old asshole mobile.
What's a Mom to do?