Note: This "Grounds for Insanity" column was published in the 03/05/12 edition of The Goshen News.
First, there were nine. Early debates featured, a long, arcing semi-circle of eager candidates, gripping podiums and fielding questions tossed by moderators like so many ripe melons. And then there were four.
Following the polls this year has been like watching a
Wimbledon match from the front row. Or rather, from squarely atop the net. I’m serious. The volatility and wild swings have left “we, the people” reeling with whiplash and a certain amount of motion sickness.
One candidate will surge. For days, analysts will dissect this bounce from every angle. Then the press, pundits, and other politicians pile on. Accusations are flung (“he flunked coloring in preschool”), aspersions are cast (“she voted ‘yes’ to banning lemonade stands and kicking baby seals”), and by the time the proverbial paddling is over, another one’s bitten the dust.
Now we’re down to four, and the debates continue. Crowds still pack the halls, the candidates are still throwing punches, and moderators are still tossing questions like ripe melons at presidential hopefuls. Oh, and there’s still post-debate debate on who scored, who bombed, and who mopped the floor with whom.
If you’ve got debate fatigue, I feel your pain. After parenting for over 22 years, I now know what no one ever mentioned before. When you sign up for the parenting gig, what you’ve actually agreed to is a 20-year debate extravaganza. Per kid.
Oh, I hear your dismay. I missed that in the fine print, too. Sure as shootin’, docs don’t highlight that part of the contract they make you sign before you take the little baloney loaf home. In fact, we realize now that the doctor who delivered Boy Two was covering that part up with his thumb. On purpose.
Eighteen years later, I understand his look of fear. We should’ve known what we were in for when the little doober spent a good 30 minutes arguing with the doc about whether or not it was his day to show up. We should’ve known.
Over the years, there’s a lot that we’ve learned. For instance, we’ve learned that if you’re not a skilled debater before you have kids, you will be by the time they get done with you. You’d better be, or they’ll eat your lunch. This is especially true with the strong-willed kids. Which would be Boy Two (a.k.a., Kid Kaboom).
When he was small, his father and I would look at each other, shake our heads, and murmur, “He’ll be a mover and a shaker. What will move and shake, we don’t know, but something’s gonna give.” It was here that we’d drop to our knees, pleading for divine intervention.
This is the kid who hasn’t met a rule yet that he couldn’t challenge. “Because I said so” has never really worked for him. He wants to know why and why not and how come and “who said?”
He’s quick, too, able to draft any number of perfectly reasonable amendments to the existing rules at the drop of a – you know. It makes perfect sense to him, see, and so it bamboozles him completely when his father and I don’t see it that way.
In fact, he’s so persistent in setting forth his arguments and sticking with his talking points that I’ve long thought he’d make a great attorney. Combine a highly-developed sense of fairness with the tenacity of a bulldog, and he’d be unstoppable. Even the most hardened criminal would knuckle under, bawling like a sissy and begging to confess just to get this pit bull in a pinstriped suit off his back.
should be throwing money at us by the fistful to recruit this kid. They really should. Harvard Law School
All of this debating (i.e., arguing) takes an incredible amount of energy. As the parent of a skilled debater, I must be ready at a moment’s notice. Forget weeks of advance preparations with a multitude of handlers. These matches will flare instantaneously. And lovely stages on college campuses with a rapt audience sitting spellbound? Ha! Here, it’s the kitchen or the van with the audience milling around and heckling the moderator.
Unfortunately for him, the “moderator” has learned a few tricks of her own. For instance, I’ve become adept at navigating the great Cookie Count Debates that spring up unprovoked.
“Can I have cookies?” someone will ask, looking hopeful.
“Sure. Have two,” I reply.
“Three?” queries the Hopeful One, just to see how far he can push.
“One,” I retort.
“Two! Two!” And that quick, Mr. Hopeful takes the offer, leaving Mother wearing the big “W” on her forehead. Winner.
Some day, the tables will turn, and he’ll be the one onstage, so to speak, going head to head with his own small, persistent debaters. He doesn’t know it yet, but I have every intention of catching the show from a ringside seat, making faces, and heckling the moderator. After which I’ll pull milk and cookies from my bottomless purse, and we will once again negotiate the cookie count.
They’ll each get two. Winner!