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Stifling Empathy

February 25, 2012

Honey Badger had a school thing. A public display of something he doesn’t like, led by a teacher he also doesn’t like.

It’s not my first time dealing with a kid’s having an obligation he doesn’t feel like fulfilling. It’s not the first time it’s happened with Honey Badger. Actually, one of the tendencies that pushed us into getting him into therapy was his refusal to do things that seemed pointless to him, regardless of the natural consequences that resulted or logical consequences we imposed.

So we had a kid who needs to learn the gentle art of sucking it up making it clear that this was not something he’d be sucking up. In principle, I object. Into each life some tedious responsibilities must fall, and they need to be met.

On the other hand, I don’t like the teacher either, and this event benefits the teacher’s ego more than the students’ development. Some of the students like it, and more power to them. But at the point that something puts a significant burden on me (and this thing does, for logistical reasons), I want to see some sort of payoff. I want a cost-benefit calculation that says, “Insist.”

I was hoping that we could finesse this. Honey Badger gets migraines, and he has a cold. So when he got off the bus the day of the school thing, I tried to give him an out: “How are you feeling, honey?”

Inside my head: “Please say you don’t feel good. Headache, cough, stomach ache, Weltschmerz, anything. Thin excuses accepted here.”

Instead: “I feel fine. Why are you asking me that?”

“Because you had a headache the day before yesterday and you were coughing a lot yesterday. I thought maybe you didn’t feel good enough to go tonight.”

Inside my head: “This is a HINT I’m dropping here. Please pick it up.”

“Oh, I’m not going. I’m not supposed to go.”

“Really? Was it cancelled?”

“No, but [Teacher I don’t like] said if I was just going to goof around, I shouldn’t come.”

“So you’d rather go home, do your homework, eat dinner, and go straight to bed? No screen time, no books on tape?*”


And then there was a pause in the conversation while I evaluated the merits and likelihood of not only getting him there and forcing him — psychically? — to behave, or of having him ruin things for other kids who were into it. Is making him do something I don’t value, either, worth it? What about the wear and tear on the kid I would have to drag along?

I settled for the austerity plan outlined above, and added — BONUS! — a conversation about how there are respectful ways of opting out and obnoxious ways of opting out, and one is much better because being respectful earns you respect and being disrespectful teaches people not to listen to you.

But that’s not the conversation I wanted to have. I want to have the one about what you do with jerks and their jerky projects. I wanted him to understand how much I empathize with his feelings. But I don’t know how to do that without undermining an authority figure, which I don’t want to do, because I don’t want him picking and choosing which teachers he’s going to listen to and which ones he’s going to ignore.

And I will spend weeks wondering what I could have done better.

*Yes, twenty-first century hipsters, I believe whippersnappers are calling them audiobooks these days, and yes, ours are actually in a digital format. Consarn it, but I have a hard time picking up this newfangled lingo.

One Comment


  1. Schooled « Free Javelins

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