At some point – I’d say within the next three years, sometime before she hits fourth grade, my daughter is going to get into a full-scale, down in the dirt, gravel-scraping fistfight with a boy.
It’s coming, I’ve absolutely no doubt, for portents of the future abound in everyday life, as they often do.
One afternoon a few months ago, I picked her up from school to behold my little cherub sporting a welt on her forehead and a nice ripe wound on her nose as well.
Okay, we won’t go through the story of exactly why Katie’s mother wasn’t called to at least report that she’d received a head injury during the course of the school day, which, when coupled with the previous days’ revelation that my daughter, reading at a fourth grade level, is not allowed to check out books from anything but the picture books from the school library because “first graders aren’t allowed to go to the older children’s section” led to many days’ reflection on the interesting, yet still puzzling question of how a single institution can be simultaneously authoritarian AND negligent. A marvel.
No, just let it be known that Katie, peeking out at me from behind her injuries, admitted that her primary recess activity was chasing boys and then putting them in wrestling holds.
I suppose it’s inevitable when you dwell with two older brothers who, from the moment you could walk, taught you how to strut into an imaginary squared circle with one of them bellowing, “AND NOW, THE OPPONENT….KILLER KATIE!!!!”
And in that context, it might also be expected that this same girl, while viewing a scene in Sunday night’s ABC movie Selma, Lord, Selma in which a woman attempting to register to vote has an intense verbal confrontation with the sheriff, would pipe up, “You know what I’d do? I’d kick him in the nuts.”
(Please, please, Mom, don't get mad...I didn't teach her to say it...her brothers didn't even do it..she claims it was the mythical creature known universally as "Someone At School")
Ah yes, she has been primed well for the future battle of the sexes. Her brothers are already expressing deep sympathy for any future boyfriends and their inevitable Waterloos with Lady Wellington.
It looks like my daughter is well on her way to following in her mother’s footsteps, deep into the Land of Not Nice Girls.
By Not Nice Girls, I don’t mean sluts and tramps. I mean the land of Scarlett O’Hara, Barbara Stanwyck, Jeanne Kilpatrick and Dorothy Parker. Flannery O’Connor lives there, as do Claire Booth Luce, Bette Davis and Mary Matalin.
It’s a smokey and bitchy and either really loud or really quiet because we’re telling you to shut up so we can recover from last night. Our eyes are squinty from reading too much and our tongues have dents from all the times we’ve had to bite them in futile attempts to supress our true natures.
And far away in another land, across a bridge, down a hill, in a pristine little cottage, lives Melanie. Smiling sweetly. Knitting, probably.
What’s the difference? Hard to say. It’s not that Nice Girls are dumb, domesticated or necessarily blonde. No, I’ve met many Nice Girls who were very, very smart and as adept at having a good time as anyone. And it’s not that my kind are a coven of cold-hearted witches, either. Babies melt us into puddles and we like to get flowers, too.
No, the best I can do is to say that the Not Nice Girls are always hovering on the edge of something, taking in as much of the world as we can, judging it (usually harshly), and waiting for our next, not-so-long-awaited opportunity to be –
There. I’ve said it.
And let me add Sarcastic, Sharp and Pointed to the list as well.
All right, I’ll admit it. This whole cynical rap is on my mind these days because once again, as I have frequently over the past few years, I’ve come under fire for exhibiting this untoward and, according to some, unChristian characteristic.
So I’m a little defensive.
One of the first times I got into actual trouble for expressing my thoughts with what some call a “cynical” tone (but which just seem normal to me, which I guess is the problem, if there is, indeed one) occurred in school, but as a teacher, not as a student.
Several years ago, I had to go to an In-Service. Now anyone who knows me, or knows any teacher with an ounce of sense, is aware of our attitude towards in-services. “Hate” would just about capture it.
This one was particularly hideous and an amazing waste of time. We had to drive an hour through Orlando’s rush hour traffic to sit through a prayer service, a one hour talk on Things Everyone Knows About Teaching but I’ve Restated In the Latest Educationspeak So I Can Get a Grant Extension for One More Year , then we went to Mass, then we had an hour lunch. And that was it. Four hours in the car for that.
I was particularly on edge because I had to go to incredible length and trouble to obtain child care for my children, since it was my first year in this new town, and had actually ended up being aided in distress by my best friend from Gainesville’s (the old town) sister who lived in some far reaches of Orlando and who kindly agreed to watch my kids for the day.
So I was stressed out and wildly irritated at the whole mindless scene and already fretting about driving BACK through Orlando through afternoon rush hour traffic when some heedless fool placed an evaluation form in front of me at the end of the day.
Flash forward to a week later. I get called into the office by the principal. The Superintendant of Schools had actually FAXED my evaluation to him and attached a note suggesting that he “deal with this.”
My crime, it seems was that I thought the whole day was a waste and I stated it in plain English, and added a few (I’ll admit) “unprofessional” touches such as phrases like “Give me a break.”
But what interested me was the argument offered against what I’d done. “How would you feel,” I was asked, “if someone attended a program you’d planned and reacted to it this way?”
I remember sitting there and sifting through a rapid series of memories of parents calling to complain about religious education programs I was in charge of when I was a Director of Religious Education, planning adult education programs no one showed up at, and negative letters about newspaper columns sitting in my mailbox.
I shrugged. “I’d take it for what it’s worth. I’d expect it. It’s part of being an administrator.”
They didn’t see my point and let me go with a suggestion that I try to..... be nicer next time.
So what’s the latest addition to my rap sheet? Well, it’s not just one thing, but let’s just say that over the past year, I’ve had an increasing number of readers express dissatisfaction with my “tone” , mostly when I critique matters relating to the institutional Church – you know – bad homilies, faithless church leaders, lay or clerical, useless parish programs, hypocricy.
UnChristian, they say. Uncharitable. Support, don’t tear down. Be nice.
Well, I do agree that there’s a line, and perhaps I’m careless sometimes about how close I’m dancing to it. When we disagree with others, particularly within a Church, our first line should be loving, peaceful discussions with Christ at the center. . An unrelenting diet of cynicism would render us into dried up bitter witches whose opinions and arguments are as useless as the teary emotional outburst of the Nice Girls
So most of the time, I am highly rational, understanding and compassionate. But the problem is that there are other times, when that whole shtick just runs out of steam, and more likely, runs right into the wall of people who don’t respond to rationality because they’re blinded by their egos, deafened by their obssession with power and incapable of engaging in rational discussions because they’re either too dumb or too imprisoned by mindless adherence to platitudes disguised as ideology.
So in marches the Not Nice Girls, pens and sharp tongues at the ready.
Further, I’ve got to tell you, as long as there’s a basic respect for all people as Children of God and all that, I don’t thing a blame thing wrong with it.
I’ve no idea where this demand that people who call themselves Christians are only allowed to discuss matters in hushed tones and frequent murmurings of “I understand where you’re coming from” has evolved from. Quite honestly, there’s a long and rather honorable tradition of smart aleck Defenders of the Faith behind us, if we only look.
Jesus had very harsh words for religious leaders who misused power. Read Matthew 23. Stephen told the Sanhedrin their hearts and ears were uncircumcised. Paul called the Galatians who’d turned from the Gospel he’d preached “stupid.”
I’m sure there are some knowledgeable folks reading this who can come up with plenty of citations of worthy purveyors of edgy Christian argument from history, but the one who pops to mind immediately, is of course, Erasmus, who wrote an entire book called In Praise of Folly in which he spared no ounce of vinegary satirical prose in describing the abuses in the Church of his day.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not arguing in defense of a wholesale adoption of mean-spirited destructive venom as the manner in which Christians should disagree. But as Flannery O’Connor once said in relation to fiction “I have become convinced that exaggeration is the only way to make people see.”
So don’t get mad at the Not Nice Girls, when we’re confronted with absurdities like priests taking homily time to go over in excruciating detail their attempts to go backstage to meet the magician David Copperfield, Diocesan Directors of Religious Education who say right out in public that everything will be better once the Pope dies, people claiming that defending the killing of unborn children is perfectly consistent with the teachings of Jesus, guest homilists on stewardship whipping out tiny tape players, setting them next to the microphone and standing there while a rendition of “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” blasts through the speakers, pastors opening up liturgies on the First Sunday of Advent with complaints about yesterday’s college football results, Catholic parents who stop taking their kids to Mass, and then blame the Catholic School for the kid’s apparent lack of faith……
Yeah. Forgive the Not Nice Girls when we live with this day in and day out and find that most of it defies rational response and positively screams for the quick strokes of a pen that some call sarcastic, some call cynical, but happens to be the tool we have to use to get to what we call the Truth. At least it might hurt less than other methods we could use. Just ask Katie.
Back to Amy's Blog