From God to Village Idiot

Just because the transition happens swiftly doesn’t make it any less painful.

One day you’re walking home from the train knowing that as soon as you round the corner onto your street, your boys will come barreling down the sidewalk and fling their arms around you. The next, they’re too engrossed with Face-stagram-ify to acknowledge that you’ve walked in the door.

One day, you are wise. The next, you are wizened.

My husband’s transition from great and powerful Dad to local object of ridicule was particularly abrupt. One night at dinner, when the boys were cheerfully making fun of how he talked, I said, “well, they can’t think you’re God forever.”

“I’m aware of that,” he said. “But did I have to go from God to Village Idiot?”

That’s the real onset of puberty — not your child’s body odor or wispy bits of facial hair, but his inability to see you in a positive light.

The ribbing takes a toll.

I used to be a good dancer. And then my boys grew up a bit. And decided I was not a good dancer, but a hilarious dancer. And now I’m too self-conscious to dance. The other night, my husband’s band was playing at a restaurant and the crowd got lively. I hit the floor and started moving around to the music. I might have looked like I was dancing, but I certainly didn’t feel like it. What I felt like was a middle-aged voodoo doll whose arms and legs and hips were being manipulated by a 13-year-old boy back home who was making the fat lady get down and boogie.

When her daughters were in high school, one of my wittiest friends nearly lost all confidence in her sense of humor, not to mention her sense of style. Going away with her for a weekend was like hanging out with Sally Fields on Oscar night. “You think I’m funny? Really?” she kept saying. “You like my haircut? Honestly?” Obviously, she was suffering from Stockholm syndrome, able to see herself only through the eyes of the mean girls who’d been holding her hostage.

So how to deal with the constant eye-rolling?

You can snap back with a “who made you judge and jury?” kind of sarcasm, but that doesn’t leave anyone feeling better.

You can preempt their assault and make fun of yourself first, like the class clown, but that just fuels their sense of power and deflates your self-esteem.

Or you can remind yourself — even if you have to repeat it like a mantra — that their criticism is not about you, but about them. It’s about their need to tear you down to build themselves up, because they haven’t yet built any other foundation to stand on. You can call them on their rudeness and move on.  By doing so, you may be giving them an important life lesson: This is how you deal with a bully.

And then you do the most restorative thing of all — you go out for dinner with your spouse or some friends, share stories from the battlefield of bad behavior and laugh it off. Hopefully, no one will criticize the way you chew your food.


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