My son’s preschool teacher called me recently to tell me he had called a friend ‘stupid.’ (FYI: all classmates in preschool are referred to as “friends” to protect their anonymity in cases of biting, hitting, name calling, and the like.) Ulysse’s teacher was concerned because this was not his first offense. He did it once before winter break too! I made all of the requisite sounds of concerned disapproval as I listened and semi-proudly thought, “only one stupid in three months – not too bad!” When she confronted him about his crime and told him we don’t call people stupid, Ulysse pithily replied, “well, Donald Trump says that!”
As I tried to suppress my laughter I was beaming with pride. I am about to totally disavow this saucy retort, but I’m simultaneously swooning with admiration. One-liners that would take me hours of after-the-fact muttering and reenactments roll naturally and effortlessly off his tongue. To my frequent consternation, he’s kind of a genius.
And now for the promised disavowal: My husband Fabien and I had nothing to do with this reasoning (that I know of.) Sure, we talk politics at home. Of course Ulysse knows about our disappointment over the election results. He was well aware of the existence of our superhero, “Heewiya Cwinton” and her arch nemisis “Donawd Twump.” We listen to a lot of NPR. He listens, too. But never once did we in word or in deed indicate or imply that he had license to follow the horrid example of this despicable president. Toward the end of the campaign, he said “is Donawd Twump not a bad guy? He tells everybody ‘Get out of my way!'” We don’t watch TV news, so it blew me away that he had passively absorbed this much. We started talking with him about Trump when he started talking to us about him. Maybe that was a mistake?
At this age, kids seem so wholly focused on good vs. bad as they try to make sense of the world. Explaining that sharks are not “mean” just because they eat other fish suddenly looks easy compared to explaining why we should avoid labeling Trump “mean” as a human being and instead focus on his actions. Maybe it’s just in his nature, like the shark, to chomp on whatever tasty morsels happen his way, unconcerned about trifles like feelings and fairness?
So, did Ulysse overhear and process the many reports about the influence such a man might have on our children? Maybe someone else told him anything goes with President Oompa Loompa in the White House? Did he come up with this stone-cold logic on his own? If so, what does that mean about him as a person or about us as parents? Whenever we ask where he heard something, he never reveals his sources. We may never know.
Not only did Ulysse use the DT defense for insulting a friend, he went on the same day to invent a playground game in which Donald Trump was the bad guy. The game, which I’m sure was at least as successful as the Ironman game that was getting them all in trouble in the Fall, was immediately shut down by the authorities. Preschool teachers are not playin’ when it comes to political demonstrations at school.
In addition to these two already impressive feats of political subversion, Ulysse had also been openly proffering political opinions, (the kind of opinions that are more like facts in my book, but I’ll get to that,) and it was making the administration twitch. His teacher had spoken to the director and they decided to call me – could I please make him stop? Of course! No problem! It will be super easy to get a precocious motormouth to stop talking shit about the president at school. And accordingly, I did nothing…
While his teacher assured me she agreed with me, (which was reassuring,) she was concerned about the other children being offended. She also mentioned that some of the other teachers like the Donald and voted for him. I must say for the record that I love this teacher. She is a kind, playful, caring person, she loves Ulysse and he loves her. That said, I couldn’t give a flying fig about whether or not my four-year-old’s political discourse offends a fully grown adult professional human being. It’s laughable. The children, while I doubt many of them are as “informed” as Ulysse, are a different matter. I don’t want anyone to be hurt by anything my son says and I want him to be sensitive to the power words have to do harm.
If I recall correctly, he said things like, “Donald Trump is mean! Donald Trump is a bad guy!” and “Donald Trump doesn’t share!” At home, in a futile effort to push back on the good/bad, mean/nice dichotomies, we have mostly talked about the tangerine führer in terms of inclusion and sharing: Donald Trump wants to exclude certain people and he doesn’t want to share with everyone.
On the one hand, I considered that Ulysse has a right to state his opinion. Then I realized that opinions like these are a lot closer to facts than some of the other “facts” alt-right-neo-nazi sources tend to propose to their followers. It’s objectively verifiable that the Cheeto emperor is mean and a bad guy. Take one look at his cabinet and at the new healthcare bill and national budget and it’s plain that he only shares with his very special, very rich friends, so admittedly, the charge that he doesn’t share would likely be rated as only half true by fact checkers.
I was driving as the teacher and I discussed Ulysse’s intellectual gymnastics and how best to get him to shut up about politics at school. With a kid like him, I worried that trying to forbid him from mentioning Trump at school would only encourage him. Telling him he should save it for home was one option, but I decided to say nothing and hope that the gentle scolding from his teacher and the director had convinced him to keep his political agitating to a minimum. The teacher’s authority seems to work better than ours sometimes. We will intervene if it becomes necessary. It was out of the question that we tell him he can’t say such astute things about the president, particularly about THIS president. Some nuance would definitely improve his argument, but at bottom, he was right – how could I tell him in good faith that he was wrong?
My plan, or lack thereof, seems to have worked – at least for now. What would you do? Or what have you done in similar situations?
And speaking of good faith, next time I’ll be reflecting on Ulysse’s newly awakened sense of suspicion regarding religion. Seems like he takes after me in more ways than one…