MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA
I have been enlightened during back-to-school shopping. Some of the T-shirts on sale for little boys make me downright mad. If my son uttered the words on some of those shirts, I’d put him in time out. Or sometimes it might spark the need for a serious conversation with a nearly 6 year old. I’m not particularly fond of either scenario.
So, what T-shirts are on the back-to-school chopping block? Well, I’ve seen quite a few about being lazy and not asking kids to do stuff. See the one above in the photo. My parents actually bought that for my son, but they didn’t understand what it said. They just knew he likes poop emojis. Really, what nearly 6-year-old boy doesn’t? A few of the shirts are mean, such as one that sports an image of George Washington with the text, “I cannot tell a lie, I ignore your texts.”
Certainly, not all shirts are created equal. There are quite a few that are funny and fairly innocent. For example, my son likes one that reads, “Mondays, let’s get this over with.” Who can’t relate to that? Indeed, I’m relating to that message right now. Another one I can get behind is his “Circle of Life” tee featuring an emoji pizza pie. Yes, pizza really is the circle of life, especially for an Italian boy. And that one of a dinosaur driving a bike and wearing shades is a favorite in our house.
We Could Not Always Get Away with This
What’s most appealing is that they are age appropriate. Those three shirts seem right on a kindergartner. But the ones that are dripping with sarcasm don’t. Look, I expect 13 year olds to have an answer to everything and wear their cynicism on their sleeve. I don’t expect that from a 6 year old. When the heck did it become in vogue to teach our sons to do nothing?
If I told my Italian immigrant father not to ask me to do anything, he would have told me to get up off my lazy culo. As Sebastian Maniscalco points out in his stand-up routine, Italians won’t tolerate that kind of talk. He describes watching cartoons when he was 8 years old. His father walked in and asked him what he was doing. When Maniscalco says he’s watching TV, his father retorts with something like, “What are you lazy? Go out and start a business.” Indeed, that was the way in our home, too. I think Nonno would rip the shirt off my son’s back if he realized it read, “Don’t ask me to do anything.”
It’s All Our Fault
A few of the shirts are on another level. They make me cringe. I really hate the one about ignoring someone’s texts. It is just plain mean. I suppose this trend is a long time coming. Truth is that people have not exactly been speaking kindly to one another for a while. To say the level of discourse has diminished is an understatement. These T-shirts are just reflecting bigger societal trends. At some point, we gave up on etiquette. Then, we tossed it into the time capsule. I’ve been waiting for someone to dig it up. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Grown-Ups Fail to Set the Example
Truly, it begins with the grown-ups. Recently, I visited the Motor Vehicle Commission in New Jersey. (I know I was asking for trouble.) I politely waited to be called up to the desk. When my number was called, I walked up to the counter and began to speak. Only, I was wrong. The staff person was talking to a different group to the left of me, so I wasn’t the No. 12 he intended. Instead of just explaining that, he yelled at me to get back in line. Then, he had his colleague repeat it in Spanish. He didn’t realize my husband and I had been speaking in Italian previously.
A day later, I was driving my son home from school. There was an elderly woman walking to the school to pick up her grandchildren. She was a little unsteady and there are no sidewalks. So, I was driving extra slow and more toward the center of the road to avoid hitting her. Some guy turned the corner and shouted at me, “What the bleep are you doing?” Actually, I was trying to avoid running down grandma. This is how we act as adults. Why shouldn’t our children’s T-shirts have the tinge of snottiness?
Let Me Explain
All right, some will argue that these shirts are meant to be humorous. They might say I’m taking it all too seriously. Humor, in general, has become a little meaner over the years. Just think about Seinfeld and more recently Modern Family. Yes, the characters still display love, the characters can be nasty to one another. They might laugh at each other’s expense. None of them comes off as saintly.
While I get the sassy movement or whatever you call it, I am not sure we should just accept it. Yes, hearing little kids talk back like an adult can by funny, even cute. But it’s not something we should encourage or let go. These kids are going to grow up eventually. I for one can’t afford for them to be lazy bums who don’t want us to ask them to do anything. I don’t want them to ignore anyone’s texts, least of all mom’s. I want them to understand real feelings rather than hide behind emojis.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like children’s clothing stores are splashing four-letter words across white cotton. The one above uses “stuff” instead of what the image implies. Some of the messages are only subtly troublesome. When compared to the ones on girls tees, however, they seem more inappropriate.
Girls Versus Boys
Actually, what gets me really fired up is the fact that we no longer want to encourage our sons to be smart and hard working. Somewhere along the line, we decided as a society to instill confidence in our girls. We still aren’t doing enough. But we’ve made a concerted effort as evidenced by the T-shirts for girls. “This Girl Can” and “Girls Totally Rock” are among the shirts available at the same store selling the ones described for boys.
I have to admit that my son and my niece have both worn shirts describing them as geniuses. While that’s a lot of hyperbole and you could argue we’re making them arrogant, I think it’s also about aspiration. My son “can,” my niece “can,” we all “can.” And our shirts should say that.
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012). She also has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.