Do you know what I’ve discovered after attending a funeral last week of someone who died before her time (she was two years younger than I, and believe you me, I am not ready to exit stage left just yet)? After meditating at great length on the premature death of my co-worker, I discovered that Shakespeare was right: “To thine own self be true!” Doing otherwise will just fuck with your mind and your life.
Because I’m always thinking of what spiritual legacy WW and I can implant in our grandson before we kick the bucket, I was mulling over the concept of how to convey recognizing one’s “True Self” vs. the “False Self” we often get imprisoned in by the opinions of others to a four-year-old. But Little-Dude beat me to it. The other day the phone rang and my daughter (Boo)—choked with laughter—started to rattle off one of Baby-boy’s latest adventures.
BOO: “Mom, you are never going to believe what Baby-boy did to Mama-Mama (Baby-boy’s paternal grandmother)!”
Baby-Boy (a.k.a. Pumbaa Impersonator Extraordinaire)
ME: “Oh, whatever it is, I’m sure it is going to be a hoot and totally blog worthy.”
BOO: “Well, I don’t know how blog worthy it is, but Mama-Mama and Baby-boy stopped by the grocery store for a hot minute and before you could say, ‘stay put wiggle-worm,’ your grandson wandered off to another aisle. The next thing Mama-Mama heard was Baby-boy shouting at someone:
‘Are you talkin’ to me? Are YOU talkin’ TO ME??
‘So, you want a piece of me? YOU want a PIECE of ME??’
BOO: “Mama-Mama almost had a heart attack thinking that her worst fears had come to fruition, and Baby-boy was being kidnapped and dragged out of the store. But when Mama-Mama ran around the corner, nobody was there but your grandson looking at her like the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. Mama-Mama asked Baby-boy who he was talking to and he answered her in that sly way of his that makes you think you’re going crazy: ‘Nobody.’ After scolding him to stay close to her, the two got in the check-out line and were almost finished when all of a sudden, Baby-boy started his ‘Are you talkin’ to me?’ spiel again while staring directly at Mama-Mama’s butt as if he and the butt were having a tussle (she did say, ‘stay close to me’). While his grandmother hustled our little giggling terrorist out of the grocery store, she told me that all the customers were staring at her with the kind of looks that say: ‘Should we or should we not call the Child Abuse Hotline?”
ME: “Well, it’s obvious that our darling boy picked this phrase up from something he watched on TV, and he was either channeling Al Pacino’s “Scarface” (in which case a phone call to the abuse hotline might be in order) or he was imitating Pumbaa’s speech from The Lion King. How did Baby-boy end the speech? Did he say: ‘AND THEY CALL ME, MR. PIG?’ Because that is definitely a Pumbaa line!”
Pumbaa from “The Lion King”/Disney
BOO: “Maybe, but Mama-Mama swears she has no idea where he picked that dialogue up. She thinks it might have come from his pre-school (“The Our Lady of Goodness and Grace Holy Child of the Heavenly Jesus Loves You School”). But it gets worse, Mom. On Sunday we went out to dinner with one of the deacons at the church. I told Baby-boy he needed to be on his best behavior and at first he was a total angel—showing off my parenting as if he had never done a bratty thing in his life. The waiter came over to take our orders and after finishing with the adults the server asked me what Baby-boy would like to eat. Before I could say, ‘Oh, he’ll have his usual—chicken nuggets with fries and chocolate soy milk’—your grandson reared back in his seat with a ‘high noon at the O.K. Corral shoot-out’ look and said to the waiter: ‘Are you talkin’ to me? Are YOU talkin’ TO ME?? You want a piece of me? Do YOU want a PIECE of ME??’ Mom—he’s only four-years-old! Can I send him to live with you until he’s eighteen or he’s out of his Al Pacino phase—whichever comes first? My nerves can’t take much more of this!”
ME: “No. I’m not raising anymore babies, thank you very much. Besides, it sounds like Baby-boy is just trying on identities like a new set of clothes—trying to figure out what persona he wants to be. Maybe since winning ‘Student of the Month’ in pre-school last month, he’s having issues with his street cred. Ha! Maybe there’s a four-year-old gang that’s messin’ with him on the playground. (By the way, what do you have to do to become ‘Student of the Month’ out of all the four-year-old classes in a school—not pee your pants before lunch is served?)”
Calvin and Hobbes | Cartoonist Bill Watterson
BOO: “Mom, this is not funny! The child is embarrassing me and his New York City grandmother. Would you please work with me here and take this seriously? I called you for advice—do I have a gangsta in the making?”
ME: “Fine. There is nothing to worry about. Baby-boy will grow out of it because trying on identities at four years old is like playing dress-up. Just be glad he’s no longer practicing his Chipette impersonation while channeling Beyoncé and Willow Smith when he was three years old. Remember how we couldn’t stop Baby-boy from breaking into his Beyoncé/Willow medley no matter where we were? With one hand on hip, the other hand in the air—he’d burst into song and out booty-pop anything Beyoncé could do as he burst into his three-year-old rendition of ‘All the Single Ladies.’ And in true Chipette style (because, obviously, Chipettes have no hair), Baby-boy would segue into (without missing a beat): ‘I whip my TAIL back and forth; I whip my TAIL back and forth. . .’”
ME: “Just be glad Baby-boy is channeling the spirit of Pumbaa, the farting warthog!” At least the other four-year-olds can all relate to farts and it makes them laugh. The Beyonce-Willow-Chipette medley might have gotten his butt kicked at his little inner-city Catholic School—Jesus or no Jesus—because those people know how to rumble. Remember West Side Story? All Catholics! Besides, the ages you have to worry about are the middle school years and up. That’s when Baby-boy will try on different identities that just might be false, and if they stick they could affect his life-choices rendering irreversible circumstances to his journey.
“What you have to be on the look-out for are people like that asshole, Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, who has been in the news the last few days for the unabashed way he sells “false selves” while trampling all over the psyches of young people without so much as a ‘by your leave.’ Allegedly, Mike Jefferies said his brand-killing quotes about ‘only wanting beautiful people to wear his brand’ in an interview seven years ago, but the interview has resurfaced—to much more backlash than before (IMP. NOTE: Nothing ever goes away on the Internet, Mr. Jeffries). Keep in mind that he doesn’t allow his stores to carry any girls’ jeans larger than a size 10 which are really a size 6—I know, because I checked them out when you were in high school and A&F was the divining rod of who was “in” and who was “out”! The CEO of A&F only allows larger sizes for guys because athletes are usually buff and sexy and need a larger size (his words—not mine).
“He (Mike Jeffries) doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people,” Lewis said. “He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the ‘cool kids.’”— Robin Lewis, author of The New Rules of Retail as told to Business Insider*
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids . . . Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. . .”—Mike Jeffries to Salon.com by Sean Levinson*
Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch
ME: “When Baby-boy reaches the age when creeps like Mike Jeffries can mess with his mind and cause him to think he is not “good enough” because he can’t squeeze his ass into a pair of A&F’s jeans, then we’ll have trouble on our hands. Even if A&F is out of business by then (please, God, please), there will be others to take its place. If Baby-boy or his friends start starving themselves to become the false selves that Jeffries or others like him are selling or he starts labeling himself as the ‘cool kid’ and the others the ‘losers,’ then you’ll know that you need to grab the family, far and wide, to do an intervention before his soul gets sucked right out of his body and we lose him to a false God and a false identity. Show Baby-boy that his worth comes from the inside out—that he’s spirit, soul, and body, and that nothing anyone says about him is his true self unless he answers to it and makes it his own.
“In the meantime, I’ve got to go and alert all the mothers and grandmothers I know through my blog and Facebook page to this latest assault on our children’s psyches. I even have an idea for a picket sign. What do you think?”
“…because if you are, Jeffries: Talk to the hand, Mofo!”
I am discovering that just as snowflakes (no two being identical) are formed with yesterday’s moisture and today’s arctic air, so it is with people. We form our identity with a little bit of this from our past and a little bit of that from the present—elements from our family environment and the world around us. Just as each snowflake must own its individuality to develop into the snowball, the snowman, the snow mound that never existed before but makes all the difference in the world, so must we as humans. To fit in with the rest of the snowflakes is great in order to build something constructive, but we must never forget that we are all unique and it is that uniqueness that makes the world a fabulous place. To settle for less is to live a less than excellent life, and it allows others to undermine our destiny, our credibility, and our “True Selves.”
I am also discovering that we can bring smug-ass Jeffries to his knees in a heartbeat by helping our children see that even though they may be able to fit into A&F’s clothes, for the “common good” of their “uncool” sisters and brothers, cousins and nieces, friends and acquaintances, the poor and disenfranchised, they should not spend another dime in this man’s stores. And in the meantime, they can do like the Los Angeles filmmaker, Greg Karber,** and collect Abercrombie and Fitch brands from thrift stores and friends who’ve outgrown Mr. Arrogant-ass’ rags and give them to the homeless. Let’s see how Jeffries “cool” brand looks on the “ugly” street-bound chic!
AMEN, AND AMEN!
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”― Oscar Wilde
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”― Harvey Fierstein
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