Illustration by James Callahan
Every July, since it's The Boy's birth month, I do a little retrospective check-in to talk about what's changed over the past year and to review our parenting progress so far. They used to be adorable baby accomplishments, like walking and talking and singing precious little nursery songs. Then they were impressive benchmarks, like reading and writing. Now, as he wraps up his seventh trip around the sun, he's working on the finer nuances and details. You know, like sarcastic comebacks and wry one-liners. The important things in life.
There was no way we were going to avoid the sarcasm. It's one of the most dominant personality traits in my family line, going back generations. At 45, I've only recently begun to learn when to rein it in; at 75, my father still isn't clear on that concept. And, just shy of 7, The Boy is showing signs of being the most sarcastic of all of us. He's like a smart-aleck Luke Skywalker. A Jedi Sarcasm Master.
Last week, after doing some shopping at the mall, we stopped off at the food court for a quick lunch. I ordered a veggie sub, which, after one bite, began to shed tomato slices and onion circles all over the table. You know, like veggie subs do every time. The Boy, looking neat and well-pressed in his Burger King crown as he munched on his non-messy fries, gazed across the table at his dear mother. By this time I had a stream of mayo and tomato juice running down my sleeve, and a lettuce leaf hanging from my chin.
"So, what did you order?" he asked casually. "The Detonator Sandwich?" I stopped chewing and looked at him. He didn't crack a smile, just dipped another fry in his ketchup and looked sadly at the mess I had made.
Not surprisingly, I enjoy The Boy's sarcasm more when he is using it on someone other than me. Recently, we were relaxing after Sunday dinner with my parents, hanging out in the family room while my dad watched 60 Minutes. This particular Sunday, they were describing a gruesome murder scene in graphic detail. And we had a roomful of grandkids hanging on every horrifying word.
"Do you think you could change the channel, please?" I asked politely.
In addition to sarcasm, one of my dad's most impressive skills is his selective hearing. He didn't move a muscle.
"I'm not really sure this is appropriate for children," I said, a little less politely.
My dad sighed, then slowly reached for the remote and began meticulously scrolling through the program guide at the bottom of the screen.
"Give me a minute, I'm trying to find something else for them to watch," he said, click-click-clicking slowly down the guide as the bloody commentary blared on.
"Well, hey, make sure you're showing us something as disturbing as possible while you do it," The Boy said earnestly. "That's sure to help."
My dad raised one eyebrow. I would say it was a look of disbelief, but I'm willing to bet that he was every bit as sarcastic when he was 6 years old. The Boy put on his innocent grandbaby face, and my dad switched the channel to PBS Kids.
Obviously, sarcasm isn't a sterling character trait. Use it the wrong way, and you hurt people's feelings.
Would I trade The Boy's talent for the well-placed verbal jab for, I don't know, a green thumb, a savant's knowledge of biology, or the ability to spin straw into gold? No, I would not. I wouldn't change anything about him. It's what makes him who he is, and I think he's perfect. When he gets older, I'm sure we'll butt heads over it; no master of smart-assery likes to be out-smart-assed, and considering the start he's got, it's bound to happen soon. In the meantime, though, I'll keep feeding him straight lines, helping him hone his skill like a sardonic Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Happy seventh birthday, buddy. May the force be with you.