It was getting late, so I turned out the lights and headed upstairs. As I walked down the hall, I thought I heard crying from the boys’ room, so I stuck my head inside.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Nothin’,” said Scooter, my 12 year-old.
“He’s being a dubo!” said Skipper, my 10 year-old.
“You’re just a big baby,” Scooter snapped back at him.
“What’s this all about?” I asked in my most mature and concerned tone of voice. Probably about a broken Transformer.
“Scooter says the Red Sox are losers!” Skipper said.
“Scoots–is that true?” I asked.
“Sure it’s true. Yankees rule!”
To Scooter, nothing succeeds like success. He’ll grow up to be a suck-up and a toady. No need to worry about his future.
Skipper, on the other hand, wears his heart on the sleeve of his SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas. For him, it’s all about root, root, rooting for the home team. When the Sox lose, he takes it hard.
“I’ve asked you not to listen to the MLB Home Plate Channel on Sirius on a school night, Scoots,” I said with a note of disapproval. Then I turned to Skipper.
“Skip, just because the Yankees are better doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t going to win it all,” I said consolingly.
“It doesn’t?” he asked, obviously confused by my double negative.
“Nope–not at all,” I said. “There have been five second place teams that won the World Series.”
“Yep. St. Louis in 2011, Boston in 2004, Florida in 2003, Anaheim in 2002, and Florida in 1997.”
“Gosh,” he said.
It was time for an important lesson about life. I put my arm around Skipper, cleared my throat and, with some trepidation, plunged in. “It’s important to be prepared in life, and to do your best, and to strive to excel–don’t get me wrong. But sometimes it’s better to hang back and let somebody else lead the charge and get shot.”
Skipper turned his head and looked up at me. “It is?”
“Sure. Let’s say you’re in math class and the teacher asks for the answer to a long division question. Which is better; to go first and look stupid if you get it wrong, or to let Susan Rouchka take a crack at it and fall flat on her face, eliminating one possibility?”
“Doesn’t class participation count?” Scooter asked. I was heartened to see him showing interest in academics for once.
“They always say it does, but you remember the Code of the WASP, don’t you?”
“Always look good on paper!” Skipper fairly shouted.
“That’s right,” I said with pride. He’s a chip off the old block, I thought to myself.
“So–we don’t have to work hard in school?” Skipper asked.
“Now Skip–that’s not what I meant, okay? All I’m saying is, it’s better to be lucky than smart.”
It was Scooter’s turn to chime in. “But–how can you study to be lucky?”
“Well, you can’t really,” I said, lighting my pipe and dropping some ashes on Skipper’s ”Wiggles” sheets. “It helps to choose the right parents, which you kids have obviously done, at least in the case of your father.”
“I thought you were our father,” Skip said.
“I am,” I replied, “but when you have an ego as big as mine sometimes you talk about yourself in the third person.”
They both looked relieved. “But it also helps to play the wild card in life,” I added.
“How do you know a wild card when you see one?” Skipper asked.
“Well, in cards everyone has to agree on them–like deuces and one-eyed Jacks. In baseball, it’s the team in each league with the best record among the non-division winners–so they had to be second to somebody, right?”
“Uh, right,” Scooter said.
“Who’s the smartest person in your class?” I asked him.
“Mary Beth Opashinsky gets a hundred on every test.”
“And, does she take kids’ names when the teacher has to go to the bathroom or take a smoke break?” I asked, venturing a guess.
“She begs Mrs. Kennedy to let her!” Scooter said with disgust. “She’s a stupid stunod.”
“What’s a stunod?” I asked.
“It’s just ‘donuts’ spelled backwards,” Scooter said. “That’s what I call Skip when he makes me mad ’cause mom won’t let me say swears.”
“Scooter,” I said, clucking my tongue with disapproval. “That’s not nice.”
“Okay–he’s a stupid doody-head,” Scooter said.
“Shut up!” Skipper yelled.
“Listen, kids–I just want to leave you with one important message. You can be like the Mary Beth Opashinskys of the world, but if you do, Scott Walje and Bobby Racunas are going to pound your ass at recess, right?”
I let the gravity of that inescapable fact of life sink in. “Have either of you read any James Joyce in English class yet?” I asked them.
“Dad, we’re still in grade school,” Scooter said. “We’re just starting A la recherche du temps perdu.“ We live in a very achievement-oriented suburb.
“Okay, well, let me paraphrase a quote from Joyce that I’ve always found helpful,” I said. “‘I will use for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.’”
“What’s that got to do with the Red Sox and the Yankees and wild cards?” Skipper asked.
“Just that it’s sometimes better to sneak up on somebody and hit them from behind, than to face them squarely. Okay?”
That seemed to satisfy them. “Under the covers, you two,” I said as I got up and turned off the light. “G’night.”
As I walked down the hall, I heard the sound of a plastic Whiffle ball bat connecting with a hard surface, then Scooter screaming “Ow!”
I smiled to myself. It’s gratifying to know that sometimes–against all odds–you actually get through to your kids.
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Kids: They’re Cute When They’re Young.”