Thursday, March 15, 2012

Delighting in a blood-splattered wall

This morning I saw bright red blood splattered on white. At a theatrical performance of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”, when it came time for the deranged narrator to dismember his victim before he hid his body parts beneath the floorboards, streaks of fake blood squirted on a white backdrop. I can tell you that I wasn’t one of the audience members who closed my eyes and winced. In fact, I delighted in the squirting red liquid. Not because I’m a blood-thirsty person; I’ve never been into slasher movies. But I was delighted because of a memory that this scene evoked. There was another time when I saw fake blood splattered on a white wall.

When my son Ben was a teenager, he was the Steven Spielberg of Lake High School. With video-camera in hand, he was always in production mode. We had a huge stash of costumes in our basement, where his friends gathered regularly to make movies. On one occasion, they shot a scene in the laundry room using fake blood. I discovered this when I came to take my clothes out of the dryer and saw blood splattered all over the white walls. The horizontal pole that was full of clothes I had hung on hangers didn’t escape the blood either. Just about everything was permanently ruined. Needless to say, Momma wasn’t happy. And film production was shut down for a while.

But, in no time, things were rolling again because these movies were for school. Extra credit, actually. Somehow, Ben managed to do movies for extra credit in every class from algebra to Spanish. He wasn’t exactly a stellar student, so he needed the extra credit to get by. Sort of. His grades were poor because he wouldn’t do his homework. I remember saying to him on more than one occasion, “You know, Ben, if you did your homework you wouldn’t have to do all this extra credit.” He responded to this parental logic with a logic all his own. “But I don’t want to do my homework. I want to make movies.”

Back when he was little they called this kind of kid a strong-willed child. I think that’s an oversimplification. It’s not just that Ben wouldn't be be controlled by his parents or teachers. It’s that he refused to do anything just because it was expected of him. Still does. Expectations just aren’t important to him. He has to want to do something, he has to feel that there is a good reason to do it, he has to believe it’s worth doing. Or, he’ll pass.

I find it interesting to hear people lament the lack of critical thinking skills among students in our schools today. I suspect that if there were more critical thinkers, we'd end up with a lot more students like Ben. Then what would we do? Students who aren’t bound by the expectations of others are a threat to our education system. What if every student refused to do what they found unmeaningful in school? Can you imagine? It may be that we’re better off with students who can’t think for themselves.

I know that not every critical thinker is like Ben. His sister Gretchen is a critical thinker, as well. She can appreciate irony. She’s comfortable with ambiguity. She can spot hypocrisy a mile off. And, like Ben, she has a high-functioning crap-o-meter. But she always did her homework. As I see it now, the big difference between Gretchen and Ben as students was that Gretchen had a strong need to please other people. She wanted to be liked. Ben couldn’t have cared a rat’s ass. Of course, as you might imagine, one of my kids was easy to parent and the other wasn't.

None of that has changed, really. Ben continues to live his life the way he wants to. He refuses to meet other people’s expectations if he doesn’t share those same expectations for himself. He is true to himself above all else.

What’s changed through the years is me. What once brought me such aggravation as a mother now brings me no small amount of joy. Ben is Ben. And I wouldn’t want him to be anyone else. I realized that today when I saw red blood splattered against a white canvass. A sight that once aggravated me to no end, has become, for me, a source of endless delight.

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