Sunday, June 29, 2008

What Came First: The Cynic or the Child?

We finally finished "Peter Pan" tonight. The last portion is a short story, "The Blot on Peter Pan," whence comes this:

"He was always obedient, polite and good."

"What changed him?"

"I did, Sara, because I had become a cynic."

"What is a sinsik?"

Here I got in the deadliest thing I had said for years. "A cynic," says I, "is a person who has dealings with children."

Crazy Jane and Articulate Joe couldn't understand why that made me laugh so much.

Three nights ago Crazy Jane got out of bed and came to me.

Crazy Jane: How do you follow your dreams?

A Random Stranger: You do the things you want to do. What do you mean?

CJ: The princess singing movie [from Disney] said to follow my dreams.

ARS: It just means to figure out what you want to do with your life and then make sure that happens. What do you want to do in life?

CJ: Go to Disneyland and Disney World.

ARS: But what do you want to do that will be something that's good for you? You see, Disney's figured out that parents like to tell their kids to follow their dreams, so if Disney makes products that tell you to follow your dreams parents will buy those products. Disney doesn't care if you follow your dreams. They just want to sell you products. You need to listen to the people who care about you. Your family and your friends care about you. Wal-Mart and McDonald's and Disney don't care about you, they just tell you they do so you will give them money.

That lead to this the next night while reading Little Town on the Prairie and coming across the word "scholar":

CJ: What's a scholar?

ARS: It's someone who goes to school. They are based on the same word. A scholarship is when someone gives you money to go to school.

CJ: Like [my employer]?

ARS: No, they just give me money because I work for them. They don't care what I do with it. But the last couple years I've gotten a scholarship from the economics department.

CJ: They give you money so you'll keep going to school so you'll give them more money?

ARS: Sometimes things aren't as cynical as I make them out to be. They just gave me money to help me out. If it were a company you'd be right, but I don't think schools are like that.

Then last night as we were finishing Little Town on the Prairie and talking about our up-coming Laura Ingalls Wilder-themed vacation, Crazy Jane and I had this exchange.

Crazy Jane: Where are we going to stay when we go to Minnesota and South Dakota?

A Random Stranger: In hotels. Or in our tent, maybe.

CJ: I'm not sleeping in the tent.

ARS: You love camping.

CJ: I'm scared of it.

ARS: What is there to be scared of?

CJ: [matter-of-factly] Wolves.

Tonight I had to call a guy from church who was driving a truck full of cheese into Wisconsin. I said to him, "You're importing cheese into Wisconsin? I bet they don't want that to get out." Crazy Jane asked, "What's importing?" I shushed her until I was off the phone, then we had this conversation:

ARS: Importing means bringing something in.

CJ: Why doesn't Wisconsin want people to know they import cheese?

ARS: Because that's what they are known for.

Persephone: That's why all your school books have pictures of cheese in Wisconsin.

CJ: Maybe Wisconsin doesn't really make cheese, but guys from Wisconsin go out at night and steal cheese and bring it back and tell people it's theirs.

So maybe J.M. Barrie had it wrong. Cynics aren't people who have dealings with kids, but my kids are going to end up cynics by the time I'm done with them.


Nancy said...


Anonymous said...

What fun! Seems like you have precisely the kind of kids that made J.M. Barrie smile. I hope they liked Peter Pan and I know of another book to read. Unlike the other prequels and sequels that have come out, this one does not contradict Barrie's original stories. In fact, it's based on his idea for more Pan adventure! Sounds like fun...
There's an announcement page here:

Nathan said...

Loved this post, Random Stranger. I can see you having such conversations with your kids and I recognize similar moments with my own. I'm reminded of an experience I blogged about a few months back. It's not so much cynicism as earnestness that characterizes this exchange, but the kind of conversation rings true in each case. Kids are smart and they crave understanding.