Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Secret Life of the American Pre-Teenager

It isn't easy being a 10-year-old boy nowadays.

It particularly isn't easy being a 10-year-old boy with a neurotic mother and unlimited access to the computer.

My son lives in two worlds. From 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. weeknights, and for most of the weekend, he exists in an environment with two strikes against him: A Type A obsessive mother who once made a living as a professional fact-checker, and unfettered time in front of all electronic screens in the home. From 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays, he is monitored by calm, rational adults, who impose limits and accountability.

At home, we are sticklers for accuracy. Not necessarily relating to anything having to do with schoolwork, but in more important pursuits, like sports and politics. When my son was 7 or 8, he noticed an incorrect lifetime batting average cited in a book on baseball statistics. Of course, my son was correct, and an email was promptly sent to the publisher informing them of the error. Better luck next time, McGraw-Hill! If a pundit on MSNBC erroneously credits John McCain with taking a state in the 2008 election, I will ensure that if my children are within earshot, they are apprised of the correct information.

My poor child, accustomed to the sight of his mother's pained expression and forehead vein bulging at the sight of any "political spokesperson" rambling on, has developed a pretty good BS detector of his own.

On a semi-regular basis, my 5th grader returns from school with a recently heard factoid to bounce off me. One boy, a self-confident chap with a future in sales, was overheard telling a group of gullible girls how his pitches go "2,000 miles per hour." My exasperated progeny knows that it is a physical impossibility that this child pitches faster than 50, 55 MPH tops. Another boy reported that his brother "walks to college every day." Since there is no institution of higher learning in our actual town, my son was rather disturbed at the thought that his friend's brother would be forced to walk 10 miles, Abe Lincoln-like, to pursue his education. Turns out the brother walks the 1/8 of a mile from his home to the local train station, and takes the metro a straight shot seven miles directly to his campus. Another friend, a self-described baseball fan, insisted that the Minnesota Twins had gotten the American League Wild Card berth, which was actually won by the Tampa Bay Rays. This poor child has a mother in publishing who limits her son's access to the Internet. That explains his confusion.

Not to say my son is always the picture of historical accuracy. Recently, at a school event, I overheard him posturing with some friends about their video game systems. My son countered one boy's claim with a sentence that began with "My dad" which did not entirely ring true with my recollection of the incident in question. I suppose life occasionally can be open to interpretation.

The fuzzy logic I witness with 10-year-old boys, however, does not exist in the realm of five-year-old girls. The kindergarten kids have a penchant for precision. I once heard my daughter report to a classmate that she has "one million-billion dolls." And she would be correct. Down to the very last Groovy Girl.

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