I've always had a sarcastic reflex. It's like a gag-reflex--it's taken years for me to realize that I do actually have some control over it, but still, it's a natural instinct. In truth, I don't remember even realizing it might not be a barrel of laughs to everyone around me until my new husband (of about 6 months) was not laughing after I mocked him with some witty jab. It could have been any number of times I told him that his stories of physical therapy class were "simply riveting! Tell me more about the muscles of the lower leg, Dearest!" Or the time I excitedly told him about this new invention called running water, and that he should see if it works to rinse off his dishes. And if really wanted to get crazy, I could introduce him to this newfangled contraption called the dishwasher. He looked at me without a trace of amusement and told me to lay off the sarcasm. Not that funny to him. Huh. Interesting.
Reigning in my tongue is a lifelong learning process...I doubt I'll ever master it. Sometimes, the target is just too easy--or maybe I'm just too easily annoyed. People on reality shows...whether it be of the talent, island-survival or weight-loss genre--are often subject to my sarcastic criticism. "Really, CHAZ? Is it really LIFE or DEATH? You mean this moment where you're going to sing a pop song--could mean you cease living? Really? You wanna re-think that statement?" "Gee, thanks, Jillian! I never realized that EXTRA CHEWING GUM was low in calories and a great post-workout snack! I also never realized that product placement could be so awkward and unnatural!" "Wow, Chris, this really IS the most dramatic rose ceremony EVER!"
I thought for sure that I had been getting better at keeping my speech positive and uplifting, especially during the kids' waking hours. (Previously mentioned reality show rants always happen after hours.) Carson does know what sarcasm is by name and calls me out on it. Like when he says "Mom! Sydney's lid came off and she spilled milk all over the floor!" and I say "Awesome." He informs me that I don't really think it is awesome, but that I'm being sarcastic. To which I reply: "Yes, you're a real genius."
But a few signs have crept up and subtlety hinted that maybe the smart-@$$ doesn't fall far from the tree. And by "subtlety hinted" I mean shot up red flags that my oldest child is on the fast track to being a cynical character from a quick-talking teen dramedy on FOX who wears ironic vintage t-shirts.
Here's a few examples. We were laying on his bed at night, and we usually read 3 books or one chapter in a longer book. I was especially exhausted and just grabbed a few that were on the floor near the bed. He complained we had read them recently, and I said that he was welcome to go get more books, but I was tired and these were closeby. He grew frustrated and said they were "close by" because I always just "throw his books on the floor" and he has to clean them up. (Not true.) I calmly asked if he could think of a solution to our problem (my solution: you could get up and get some new books if you want them so bad) and he said, with full head-wag and eyebrows raised: "Uh, yeah, you could walk, like, FIVE FEET and put them away when you're done."
WHOA. EXCUSE ME?! We nipped that in the bud with some serious reality checks on how that is rude and disrespectful and also: HELLO!?! Am I reading Curious George Goes Camping for my own benefit? Is it my responsibility to keep the circulation up on the books? You think I wait all day to see what actually happens If You Give a Mouse a freaking Cookie?
Hmmmm. OK. That right there might be where he gets it. I promise I didn't actually say all those things to him, but I wanted to.
Another moment was not directed at me, but was still disconcerting. We were in the car and I was listening to a voicemail on speakerphone. I'll admit, it was a rather long message. To nobody in particular, Carson says: "Sheesh. What are you gonna do? TALK us to DEATH?!" That one, since he didn't know the person leaving the message, took me a minute to reprimand, because I was chuckling to myself just a teensy bit. But then I did manage to tell him that was disrespectful and that he should not ever speak that way.
These two in close proximity, followed the next day by his well-timed and expertly delivered "DUH!" (seriously--it was scary good. I know 13 year old girls from 1991 who would have given him props) were enough to guilt me into my own reality check. In theory, as an adult I have a better handle on when sarcasm and mockery are called for and when they are hurtful and/or completely inappropriate. Hey--I said "in theory." But this witty tool can also be a dangerous weapon, one that I don't want in the hands (or mouths) of my children! It's ironic, because I'm actually very conscious of trying to make positive statements about people in Carson's life...from the guy pumping our gas to the kid in his class who doesn't listen to his little sister. I specifically try to model graciousness to everyone we encounter--particularly in public. However, I'm wondering if my guard is dropped when I'm with people I'm most comfortable with--the ones I love the most! These little rude-awakening moments have been a good dose of my own medicine to help me regain focus on the goal of setting a good example with actions AND words.
And I feel confident that I'll be able to get a grip on that! I mean, I've completely mastered all other areas of parenting.*
*Yes, that's sarcasm. You're a real genius.