When I was a teacher, one of my favorite pieces of literature I had my students read was The Misanthrope by Moliere. For those of you who may not be familiar, it is a 17th century comedic play, written entirely in rhyming verse, that pokes fun at the hypocrisies of the French aristocracy. Moliere accomplishes this primarily through his main character, Alceste, the misanthrope, who very simply hates humankind. Alceste easily sees through insincere words and is quick to point out the despicable behavior so prevalent in aristocratic society. The piece is quite witty, and the rhyming verse makes it as fun to read as a good children’s book. Only it makes you feel all smart and sophisticated since it’s French…and old.
I bring up The Misanthrope not because it would be a smashing addition to your summer reading list (though it would), but because God must have mistaken my admiration and love for the play as a prayer for a misanthrope of my own. Because he gave me Michael, the littlest misanthrope.
Not only does Michael hate humankind, Michael hates just about everything. I know this because regardless of what I bring up to him, his response is often that he hates whatever it is. Michael, it’s time to go to school. I hate school. Michael, we’re having chicken for dinner. I hate chicken. Michael, why don’t you go see if those kids by the sandbox want to play. I hate those kids. Michael, did you see that huge possum just cross the street? I hate possums. I think I might head to Target this afternoon. I hate Target. SCREEEECH! Okay, I won’t let that one slide. Saying “I hate Target” is pretty much the supreme profanity in my house…the house that Target built…well, that Target decorated, and made cleaner, and populated with candles, and filled closets with cute, affordable clothes and shoes. WE don’t hate Target. That is not how I raise my children.
So my kid hates everything. Well, almost everything. The only things he seems pretty adamant about liking are sugar and, for some unknown reason that makes me laugh and weep all at the same time, Justin Bieber. On more than one occasion he has named the Biebs his #1 favorite musician, despite never having heard an actual Justin Bieber song. Well, I actually like Justin Bieber. I just do. Fact: I am more worried about my child being a Belieber than a misanthrope.
For a time I thought maybe Michael might be outgrowing his misanthropic phase (and hopefully his Belieber phase along with it). Instead of hating everything, he started wanting everything to be a joke. Usually that just means he adds the word pee/poop/butt/eyeball/diaper (or some compound combination) somewhere into his statement. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the dirty diaper eyeball station! If I ask him what he wants for lunch, I might get an answer along the lines of a poop sandwich…with celery. Sometimes his humor comes in the form of bodily noises or other sounds that only other kids think are funny. Once, after I told him that his preschool teacher commented that he was doing really well in school, he was not surprised. He knew exactly why he received that compliment:
“Well, I’m funny. I’m so funny. I’m the funniest one in the class. When I took my tortilla to the trash, I was an elephant with my arm and everyone laughed. I also know how to snort now. *SNORT*!!” (Side note: He was likely taking his tortilla to the trash because, you guessed it, he hates tortillas. )
While so far, his brand of humor hasn’t tickled my funny bone, I do prefer this demeanor over that of the littlest misanthrope. Fingers crossed that I could end up with the littlest Will Ferrell. I could get behind that.
Only it looks as though Michael may be adding yet another facet to his personality. Recently he almost seems to have found a certain meaninglessness in things. Michael, “Team Umizoomi” is on television. So? Michael, you get to go to Mimi and Papa’s house today. So? Michael, it’s time to pick up your sister from school. So? Michael, world peace has broken out and the Hershey’s company has decided to now make their chocolate bars in our backyard. So? I’m just playing with my Transformers right now.
Great. Now I have the littlest Existentialist on my hands. I hear they are beasts to discipline with that whole I’m-an-individual-who-creates-my-own-values-and-true-essence-so-stop-trying-to-thrust-the-absurd-and-meaningless-outside-world-onto-me-lest-I-cast-myself-into-the-pit-of-despair-or-at-the-very-least-become-anxious-that-I-even-have-the-possibility-of-casting-myself-into-the-pit-of-despair. I need to nip this thing in the bud right now because the last thing I need is a teenage Existentialist.
Did Dr. Spock have any suggestions for parenting through this? Because I’m pretty sure neither Kierkegaard nor Camus ever wrote any parenting books. And the only parenting advice I could find from Will Ferrell was this quote from Parade Magazine: “Don’t let them play in old abandoned refrigerators. Let’s see, what else? If you’re flying with your children, it’s better to book them on the same flight as you and not on a separate one just so they can have more leg room or something. Travel as a family.” I mean, it’s good advice. It just doesn’t help me with my particular situation.
Man, maybe Alceste was right. Human nature can be a real pain in the eyeball-poop-butt sometimes.
*Nerd Notes: If you are interested in reading The Misanthrope by Moliere, I recommend the version translated by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Wilbur, which is superior to all others. If you are thinking that what your summer beach experience needs is an Existentialist page-turner, you can’t go wrong with The Stranger by Albert Camus. Cool pop culture fact: The song “Killing an Arab” by The Cure was inspired by and based on The Stranger, and not a song with racist overtones as the title suggests.