My Pompous Little Son
(Nate. I’m referring to Nate here.)
“Nate, you helped teach Sam his colors when he was Tess’s age, so now we need to teach Tess her colors. We can do that while we play with Lego’s…when we’re reading books…when we’re in the car and we’re driving by other cars, we can say ‘look, a red car’—“
“Wait! I taught Sam his colors?”
“Well, you helped…”
“Hmm,” Nate crossed his arms and looked down at Sam who was drawing stick figures in the dirt. “What do you say to me, Sam?”
Sam looked up, using his hand to shield the bright sun from his eyes. “Thank you?”
“You’re welcome,” he nodded as a smug smile spread across his face.
Tighe and I made eye contact across the driveway and rolled our eyes.
On Friday, we were meeting friends for a play date. We arrived to the playground first, and Nate immediately made a beeline for the sandbox, shoving off his flip-flops in the process.
“Nate, be careful in the sandbox,” I warned, “Sometimes, sharp objects are buried in the sand and if you’re not watching for them, they might poke you.”
“Mom! I really like the way you used the word ‘objects’ instead of ‘things.’ Good job, Mom!”
I stared at him for a moment to see if he was messing with me. He was smiling and nodding at me, sincerely.
He was sincerely commending me for my vocabulary choices. Does he believe his vocabulary is superior to mine?
A few nights ago, I was saying good night to Nate and Sam before I took Tess to her room to read her stories and put her to bed.
“Good night, Nate,” I kissed his forehead. “I love you always and forever, no matter what. I’m so proud of you always and forever, no matter what.”
It’s my same old shtick I say every night to all three of them.
“Mom, I love you always and forever, no matter what.” He had squatted down next to me and was caressing my jawline, under my chin. “I’m so proud of you, Mom.”
He cocked his head and pursed his lips in a tight smile as his eyebrows arched together in a perfectly symmetrical peak. It was the way an arrogant college professor condescendingly looks at a freshman he knows will barely pass his class. Like, “I know you were only granted a remedial education at your provincial high school and you’re just doing the best you can with what you’ve got—which isn’t much.”
I held his gaze for a few moments longer than I normally would, cocking my head at the same angle and mimicking his smile. I had to know if he was messing with me or if he was genuinely proud of me.
Nope, he maintained eye contact and his smile never wavered. I guess he really believes I’ll reach my true potential some day.
A few Sundays ago, Tighe had walked over to fetch Nate from a friend’s house. Nate rode his bike home and Tess and I were there to greet him in the driveway when he got home.
“Hey, Nate! How was George’s house?”
“Great!” he said, pushing his bike into the garage. “And, Mom, the weirdest thing happened.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small Lego figure.
“Early this morning, before Sam woke up, I went up to the third floor and found this Lego guy that I forgot we had. And he’s been in my pocket all day! I totally forgot about it. Isn’t that weird? Don’t ask Sam about it.”
A couple alarm bells were going off in my head here. First, “before Sam woke up?” No one in our house—and I mean NO ONE—wakes up before Sam. Ever.
Second, “don’t ask Sam about it?” In other words, ‘don’t ask a potential witness to corroborate my story because it’s not true?’ I’m no detective, but I immediately smelled a rat.
“Nate,” I said, lowering my voice and looking him directly in the eye, “did you take that Lego from George’s house?”
“What?! No!” He avoided my eyes and started to make his way into the house. “Why would you even think that?” he called back, darting inside.
Handing Tess off to Tighe, I walked into the kitchen and finished putting dinner on the table. Tighe slid Tess into her high chair, and I leaned in close.
“Tighe,” I whispered. “Nate stole a Lego from George’s house.”
I filled him in on what I knew and we agreed all signs pointed to “thief!” Time to interrogate.
As we settled into our seats, Tighe started his very subtle guilt trip.
“You know, the problem with the world today is that people have to work so hard to earn what they have. I mean, they work and they work and they save and then they finally buy something that they deserve. But then some people who don’t work and who don’t deserve something special, just take it from those people! And that’s dishonest.”
“Oh, yeah,” Nate nodded in agreement, “That is a problem. I can’t believe people would do that.”
This went on for a few minutes: Tighe attempting to make Nate feel remorse, to empathize with his victim, the friend he consistently refers to as his “bestie.” And Nate continued to agree, either not seeing the connection between Tighe’s world problems and his actions, or deciding that he was so deep into his lie, it was too late to turn back.
Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Nate, did you take a Lego from George’s house?” I tried again.
“No, that would be terrible.”
“Nate, don’t cover up your dishonesty with more dishonesty.”
“Okay, okay! I didn’t mean to!”
We both said it at the same time. Me, frustrated and disappointed, and Tighe, omniscient and self-righteous.
“Okay, okay, I did.”
He lowered his eyes and changed the subject.
“Mom, what kind of cheese is this?”
“Nate, you need to give that Lego back.”
But Tighe wanted to teach more of a lesson.
“Nate, you need to write George a letter of apology. And pay him,” he was making this up as he went along, “…Pay him $1. For renting the Lego for the night. And you give it back tomorrow.”
So, after dinner, Nate fetched a note pad and envelope and began his letter.
“Dear George, thanks so much for having me over today. Here’s some money for being my friend.”
I read over his shoulder as I wiped down the table.
“Nate! That’s a $20 bill!”
“I know! He’s a really good friend.”
I immediately wondered what else Nate has done to this poor kid to warrant feeling so indebted to him.
“And you didn’t even apologize to him!”
“Fine,” he rolled his eyes, crumbled the piece of paper, and started a new draft.
Sam had wandered over. Licking sprinkles off his sugar cookie, he leaned over and watched Nate write.
He picked up the Lego and looked it over curiously.
“Sam!” Nate gasped. “How could you steal that Lego from me? That’s George’s Lego! And he’s my best friend!”
Sam dropped the Lego and scampered away with his cookie, expertly dodging the swat of Nate’s hand. But Nate continued his lecture from the dining room table.
“Sam, stealing is wrong! George’s parents worked really hard to buy him that Lego and you shouldn’t take that away from them!”
George’s mom and dad are a doctor and an industrial engineer respectively, so I think they’re okay.
In the end, Nate wrote a letter, basically to the effect of, “Dear George, Sorry. Thank you for having me over. Here’s a dollar. Nate.” He tucked the Lego and a $1 bill into an envelope and gave it to George the next day at school. They remain best friends to this very day.