I love it when I my son’s talents are uncovered, especially when he masters a skill that’s far beyond me. For example, he’s an excellent light saber fighter, a great dancer, and now he’s a skillful trickster. And I’m so proud.
Here’s the story. We were out of coffee the other morning. For some godawful reason, my son was awake at 5:45 am, and when he came downstairs, I asked if he wanted to go to Dunkin’ Donuts with me. He jumped at the chance and we hopped in the car. I picked up a bag of coffee beans and asked if he’d like a hot chocolate. We made our purchases, got home, and popped in Chamber of Secrets for the umpteenth time. He was in seventh heaven. I got dressed for work, and just before I was about to leave, I saw him sitting on the sofa sipping from his white DD cup as though it were a piping hot coffee.
“Oh my god,” I said. ”You’ve got to tell mom that I bought you a coffee this morning. She’ll totally flip out. It’ll be perfect.” He got this huge grin on his face and nodded profusely. I hugged and kissed him goodbye, and crossed my fingers.
On the way to work I was thinking about our joke, knowing that if it were me trying to pull it off, I’d fail miserably. I simply can’t sustain a lie for the purposes of tricking someone. I’m not talking about willful deceit or manipulating someone with stories. That would be terrible. No, I’m simply talking about one’s ability to pull off a joke successfully. I can’t do it. Even if it’s a “there’s something on your shirt” or “your shoes are untied” gag. I’m just horrid at it. I strain under the untruth of it all, until my lips crack into a smile or I physically have to turn away from the person.
On the car ride to work, I was thinking about all this, and hoping that my son is as good as my wife at being tricky. There’s a famous story that my wife fully convinced one of my friends that she and I met at the Mitchell Brothers strip club in San Francisco while she was “working”. She’d actually convinced the guy of her story to the point that he admitted frequenting the place, and wondered what room she worked in! She was able to sustain the ruse for a good 15 minutes. I was around the corner, listening to it all play out, just dying. But I couldn’t even be in the same room because I would have ruined the joke. She eventually disabused him of the story (we met in a computer lab), and my intense anxiety fell away.
Anyways, later that morning with the coffee, my wife called me and recounted the whole story about how she’d come down from the bedroom, and my son announced that I’d bought him a coffee. My wife gasped, and pushed him for the truth. ”Are you serious, because if he did, your dad’s in a lot of trouble.” And yet, he stuck to the story! Yes, he replied, it was a coffee. According to her, she had to press him several times, threatening to call me right then and there, because I’d be in trouble. (For my Breaking Bad fans, she said she’d actually thought for a second that I was pulling a Walt and this was my version of Walt Jr.’s Mustang.) He finally broke into a smile and confessed it was hot chocolate.
When she recounted this story I was so proud, actually jumping up and down in my office. I was beaming. I couldn’t believe that he kept his composure even under the pressure.
And yet, I was somewhat caught off guard by how elated I felt. It took a bit of reflection, but here’s what I figured out. I am a very anxious person, and as I explore my own anxieties, I realize that deep down there’s a fear of “getting in trouble”. Even though I’m nearing 40, there’s a young child in me afraid of being reprimanded for the littlest things. This somewhat ridiculous fear makes life hard for me at times. For instance, it prevents me from confronting authority figures such as my boss. It also stops me from speaking up against a group of people at times. It all stems back to this fear: that I’ll say or do something that I’ll be in trouble for. I’m really struggling with this part of myself, and would like to overcome it. I believe this is the same fear that prevents me from pulling off the most harmless of pranks. There’s a piece of me that’s scared of being in trouble.
This is why I’m proud of my son. There’s nothing wrong with joking around with your mom. Especially if she’s a prankster herself. I think it takes a certain confidence, a certain centering in one’s own knowledge of the truth that allows a person to pull off a joke with grace. This might sound crazy to some people, but I think my son’s ability to pull off a joke like the one about the DD coffee shows me that he’s grounded enough in himself to be able to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. I’m not condoning lying for lying’s sake. I don’t want my son to become some manipulative, pathological miscreant. I just want him to know where the truth lies and be rooted in himself, and free of the fear that I sometimes hold. By virtue of him being able to pull off our gag with a straight face, I know that he doesn’t have this overwhelming anxiety inside. He can put any nervous feeling away and play a trick, and see it as harmless. In some odd way, that was what was consoling for me about the whole thing. My son possesses a confidence in himself and in his own knowledge of the truth, to the point that he can suspend the truth temporarily in order to play a simple joke. I just love that kid.