October 6, 2011


Are we all still lying awake at night, going through our entire mental rolodex and trying to figure out who is a sociopath? This will pass as the information is absorbed. But in the meantime I am a little bit over-stimulated.


I propose a new term. (Aw. Remember Sniglets? Yes. We remember Sniglets.) The term is "recreational anger." Recreational anger is the kind of anger that is fun or entertaining or enjoyable to participate in. The kind of anger that people SEEK OUT because they like the exhilaration of being angry, not because the anger makes anything different. Recreational anger is not SUPPOSED to fix the anger-inducing problem, because if it DID fix the problem, there would no longer be the fun of being angry about it. The POINT is "being angry about it."

Recreational anger ties in to The Giant Internet Hand of Spanking: people who work themselves into a large and exciting froth over some small and often accidental/unintentional violation are participating in Recreational Anger. They are outraged not because the violation is so outrageous, and not because the outrage will change/fix/improve the violation, but because it is so much fun to be outraged in a group. Recreational anger is a hugely bonding and exciting and fun activity for participants, but causes a backlash of both recreational and genuine anger from others.

I am neither FOR or AGAINST Recreational Anger. Or rather, more accurately, I am BOTH for and against it, depending on whether or not I am participating in it.


Rob is 5'6" and is getting a suspicious pre-pimpley reddening around his mouth and nose. He will be 13 on his next birthday. His best friend is dating someone. One of his homework assignments this week involved asking a parent about the Gestapo. My friend's son is a year older than Rob, and his voice has changed and he is SHAVING.


Elizabeth is so shy in class, she can't talk to her teachers. I asked her what she does if she needs to ask a question, and she said she tries never to have to do that. At Open House, the teacher asked "Oh, who did you bring with you tonight, Elizabeth?" and Elizabeth was unable to answer or to even look up from the floor. At home, Elizabeth is confident to the point of bossiness; we have to say to her, "Elizabeth, you are not the grown-up." We've just learned that things are different at school. (OH NO. MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE HER TEACHER IS A SOCIOPATH!)


I'm supposed to help Elizabeth and Edward practice their spelling words. After three nights of practice, Elizabeth could spell all the words. Edward was still spelling them as if we'd never practiced them a single time. (Example: spelling "pencil" spelled "pesl".) But Edward is comfortable in his classroom and with his teacher, and that makes this a sub-fret to the Elizabeth shyness fret.


Henry has on two occasions bitten another student. I used to work in a daycare and I remember how serious an issue biting could be. When the teacher reported it to me, my mental circuits got too overloaded for me to say my PERFECTLY EASY AND SCRIPTED LINE ("Thank you for telling me. I'll have a talk with him"). Instead I launched into a pained, awkward, slightly-crazy series of remarks and facial expressions, in which I was trying to subtly communicate everything that was overloading my circuits ("I believe you! I am on your side! My mother was a teacher, and I will not flip out and defend my child like I know other parents do!! I used to work at a daycare and I know how serious this is and I am nervous I will not be able to stop him from doing this and he will get kicked out because you will think he might be a sociopath!") without coming out and saying any of it, so that I accidentally communicated things that were blathery, awkward, ambiguous, and hard to respond to. Now I keep going over it in my head, comparing The Way It Should Have Gone (and so EASILY, too!) with The Way It Did In Fact Go. Woe.


Nellyru said...

I'm stuck on the paragraph starting with Rob is 5'6". *sniffle* A big kid!

L said...

Oh the Elizabeth situation is so sad to me. Thank God you are aware of it and can hopefully make progress. And of COURSE Edward is comfortable despite spelling pencil pesi. It's not fair.

PinkieBling said...

Oh, Swistle, you have such a knack for calling the Internet on its BS - you're able to hit the nail exactly on the head without striking too cruel a blow.

Elizabeth's shyness breaks my heart, to imagine feeling as though you could never ask for help. I hope she's able to transfer some of that confidence from home to school.

Also, Rob is taller than I am. Holy whoa!

HereWeGoAJen said...

I was about that shy in school too. It was my goal to never have to go to the bathroom during school hours because ACK. I'd have to talk to someone and also admit to having bodily functions?

As for comparing the way it should have gone, I am still doing that with a conversation I had with parents back when I was teaching. You know, eight years ago. Woe is me too.

DomestiKook said...

Your 12 year old son is taller than me. I'm not sure I am ok with that. I may have to go find other short women and participate in recreational anger activities. Whose with me?!
And no joke, my verification word is Squeed.

chrissy said...

My oldest girl had the same shyness problem in kinder...she would not speak to anyone at all the entire day, and then she would come home from school and it was like a dam had burst- she could not physically stop talking until bedtime.

She was so timid in class that a little girl sat there and cut her hair-not just one swipe, an entire haircut- and she wouldn't raise her hand because it was quiet time and she didn't want to get in trouble. Her teacher was very much on the stern side, and Gracie was just really afraid of getting in trouble and being embarrassed.

So that's not really helpful and I don't really have a solution, I just wanted to commiserate. By the end of the school year she was much more comfortable speaking in class, and the next year she had a much gentler teacher, so it kind of went away on its own.

And oh, the biting! And the oncoming puberty! Oh poor poor you.

Leah said...

My girl is having a rough start at Kindergarten b/c she misses me so she cries a lot. So I feel like shit. But then she comes home and takes all her stress out on me by yelling at me and having tantrums about stuff. So I also feel like shit. And like a bad parent. I kind of hate school. Again.

I guess at least she's in good company with having a tough school year so far... :(

Heather R said...

Yes, I am still actively trying to figure out who is a sociopath! Not just at night, but all day too. I even spent 30 minutes last night doing internet searches to try and confirm that my own 4 year old is not a sociopath! I am pretty sure she isn't, but wow, sometimes it feels like it. I think I need to read the book.

Also, I do that thing too where I go back over an awkward conversation and can't sleep at night because it was just SO bad. I am totally fine in conversations with good friends, but I feel like with people I hardly know, I inevitably say something I regret, or I interrupt or something along those lines and then I waaaaaay over think it after.

Beth said...

Nothing witty or wonderful to say, just 'thank you' for this post which is - as usual - wise, funny, touching.

You write incredibly well.

I hope Elizabeth ends up having a really happy year at school.

missris said...

Ah yes, recreational anger. I know exactly what you speak of, and am also familiar with it's cousin, Mr. I'm Busier Than You Are. He was popular in grad school, where everyone would stand around leisurely talking for hours about how they were the busiest, most stressed out person in the world.

Sarah said...

Oh, I am constantly replaying interactions that went awry! There's this one woman at church, perfectly nice, has three kids just like me, and yet every time I run into her/need to speak with her, I end up feeling as though I was awkward and confusing and that she probably walked away with a raised eyebrow. At this point I just want to HIDE when I see her coming. However, in general I am totally not an awkward or shy person, nor do I have trouble communicating, and she is literally the only person with whom I consistently have weird interactions, so maybe... it's her? Please?
Also, I feel like my last few conversations with Addy's teacher could have gone better. Like either I was being too friendly and chatty or not enough so to match her mood. We weren't... in sync, I guess. This is inconvenient because a)obviously, I want Addy's teacher to click with me and b) she lives directly across the street from us. Yeah. So that's fun.

Misty said...

I am 5'6. Sheesh! You guys must be a tall bunch. :)

And Jelly was a biter and it is HORRIBLE. And STRESSFUL. And I was scared there was something truly wrong with him (SOCIOPATH!) And I couldn't stop him because he was still nonverbal and reasoning did no good. We got books and looked at websites and blah blah blah. It is over now. So, big hugs. It is a stage. He won't be biting folks in committee meetings as an adult.

M.Amanda said...

I spent quite a bit of time pondering one of my in-law's past misdeeds before deciding that he was not a sociopath, just one sick and miserable sob. Just as I came to that conclusion out of the blue I thought of another who fits the bill much, much better with the poor, poor me acts and manipulation and lack of remorse for hurting "loved ones." Yikes.

Maggie said...

Agh! The teen years approaching! Rob is already my height. Damn.

I seem to be engaging in some recreational anger involving a stupid computer program my son's school is trying to require everyone to use to volunteer etc. It's crap, no one likes it, why are they still insisting we use it? Recreational anger here I come!

lifeofadoctorswife said...

I am having a full day of recreational anger. Very glad for the terminology to use to describe it - thank you.

And to go with that recreational anger is a healthy dose of Conversation Replay where I am berating myself for letting a Telesales Guy get under my skin.

He is probably a sociopath.

Kelsey said...

I refuse to believe Rob is that big/old. Refuse.

Moving on...

Was Elizabeth this shy in kindergarten? Maybe she's just taking some time to adjust to first grade. My instinct is to want to TALK with you about this... the former teacher in me?

I'm sorry because I bet thinking about it is very stressful, but I do believe it will work out ok!

d e v a n said...

Yes, i am still examining everyone under the microscope of "Possible Sociopath."

As for Elizabeth; is she a rule follower? My oldest is a major rule follower and though he is bossy and talkative at home he rarely talks AT ALL at school and his teacher wants him to make more friends.
(He says he isn't allowed to talk and my attempts to explain appropriate times to talk have not worked.)
He is the same way about talking to his teacher, and I don't know if it's part of this "rule following" or not.

Bibliomama said...

My friend's daughter is in grade two and is EXACTLY THE SAME - she wet her pants in the first week of school because she was too afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. She's improved since then, though. And some boys will never be able to spell without a dictionary, so don't kill yourself making him practice - it's a brain thing. And what are your thoughts on men vs. women re recreational anger? You know, where women just want to bitch about something and men have to fix it?

Swistle said...

Kelsey- She was shy in kindergarten, but less so. But--she had a very different kind of teacher in kindergarten: a new graduate, very enthusiastic and appreciative of girly/princessy stuff, whereas this year's teacher is a 45-year teaching veteran who is more solid and no-nonsense.

Swistle said...

devan- She IS, yes---kind of a firstborn temperament. She does get very nervous about, for example, thinking she's not allowed to go to the bathroom unless it's Bathroom Time, and not being AT ALL convinced that in an emergency it would be okay to ask. Sigh.

Swistle said...

Bibliomama- Oh, interesting! I hadn't thought about it, but I wonder if men do the group bitching thing? I barely follow any men on Twitter or read any guy blogs, so I don't have a sample.

Firegirl said...

a) Rob is taller than me now. Not possible.

b)I was Elizabeth. I believe it's the setting/teacher that might be the issue. She's overwhelmed by him/her perhaps?

3)Biting *putting on my old hat*
It's a teacher problem, usually not a child problem. He's "allowed" to get that frustrated/angry/whatever so that's his outlet. Rarely a popular thing to impart to a caregiver though so not so much helpful. Perhaps suggest that he can YELL instead of bite.
And...just in case...make sure he's not pretending or playing a game that others aren't aware of. "But I was being a dinosaur!!" kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

GeeBea said...

That kind of anger...not only do I like to complain about stuff and join in, but it seems like it keeps me from crabbing at the near and dears about small stuff. Overflow valve...do you do that too?

What's William doing? He rarely makes the headlines. Or maybe he's the mystery freezer weaver!

Joanne said...

Oh, Elizabeth. My sister Laura was exactly like that. Crazily in charge at home (she is the second child, first daughter, my older sister) but paralytically shy at school, like unable to answer questions type of shy. But I am happy to say that she got over it, she sort of melded the two personalities together as she got older, like maybe by high school?, and now she is a perfectly not-shy/ not bossy type grown woman.

Dr. Spock, whom I love, talks a lot about biting in such a nice way - I mean, it happens, children USE their MOUTHS to communicate, and little children not always in the right way! It's serious but not serious, you know what I mean? My three and two year old started preschool in earnest this fall and no one's been bitten yet or bitten anyone (they have both bitten ME) but I'm sure it's coming. And I'm sure I'll eff it up when it happens and mentally beat myself up for a while but I'm going to return to Spock, and talk to myself like HE would about it.

CARRIE said...

I have similar conversations with people I don't know who are authority-type figures and could potentially make my life suck....doctors, librarians, teachers.

Eventually I get to know them, and then rather than thinking I'm nuts because I drone on awkwardly, they think I'm nuts because I am share TMI and act uber-friendly.

Can't win.

Nik-Nak said...

Oh my GAWD your kid is going to be so tall when he's done sprouting. Also can it be labeled "recreational anger" when I day dream about how it would be if I could go fist to fist with my sister-in-law? Oh? What's that? That's just called nut-so? Okay then.

Christina said...

Oh! Get Paul those face pad things. What are they? In the tub? Noxema?? I distinctly remember getting those around 12 or 13 with the pre-acne-red around my nose. It helped!

Ew. Dislike Elizabeth's teacher. Definitely should not be her profession.

fairydogmother said...

Ugh. I worked at a Montessori school/daycare in high school. I always hated having to talk to the parents about biting, its the worst! I remember having this clear vision at 16 of how I would be as a parent in the same situation. Then I was being a good aunt one day & got caught in the middle all flustered and wanting to be all 'oh, I so get it, I'll let my sister know' and stop & have the little talk right then & there. Nope. Total flustered caught off-guard idiot instead. Ok, really it was probably somewhere in between. But I felt like a totally flustered idiot, so that's still what seems true.

fairydogmother said...

Also, I meant to say I was totally an Elizabeth as a child in school. Eventually I grew more comfortable, but it took a long time. Part of it may be a twin thing, it can all be such a huge adjustment even beyond the first year of school, and it brings out different aspects of each child's personalities in different situations (times of day/classes when they might be together more), teacher personality fit, etc. I feel for you both, and hope she grows more comfortable speaking up in the classroom sooner rather than later.