My neighborhood is overrun by nerds. Engineering nerds too, the worst kind. Engineers are taught to stay inside their tidy little boxes and focus on the task at hand with a very narrow tunnel vision. This training spills over into their personal life. If you’ve ever needed a sleep aid, befriend a software engineer. My buddy’s interests are limited to biking, biking shorts, biking safety, and his college football team. His favorite comedian is Bill Cosby, and his favorite movie is Star Trek. He even knows a bit of Klingon. He’s not a bad guy — it’s just that he’s extremely limited. In everything. And while the stay-at-home moms in my hood are quite Stepford, most of my male neighbors could be identical clones of this guy. I have tried continually to fit in, attending several functions and parties, but it’s the same exact conversation at every party. My “Irish goodbyes” are viewed as extremely rude, although not as awkward as formally leaving after the first 15 minutes.
Nerds are not necessarily a bad thing. In my old neighborhood, everyone seemed to think they were cool. Granted, conversation was a hundred times more interesting, and their parties were much more fun with scantily dressed women and substances that may soon be legal (of which I did not partake). Concurrently, many of the children in the old neighborhood seemed to be maladjusted and fairly ignorant, which is why we moved. No matter what a psychologist tells you, a child’s most powerful influence is his or her peers. With few exceptions, our children’s peers dictate what they wear, what they watch, what they listen to, and what they say. When my child began to ask why he couldn’t watch Duck Dynasty, I knew it was time to move. I would rather my own child hang with nerds instead of maladjusted cool kids.
My geek buddy and his wife booked a pricey vacation for the two of them to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. Something came up and their parents weren’t available to watch their son. Ostensibly, the Irish goodbye parents were their last resort before they had to cancel their trip. My son had never really conversed with their boy before, although they attended several classes together. After several dirty looks from my buddy’s bitchy Stepford wife, we set up one of our extra bedrooms and had our son show their boy the ropes.
Their boy was very polite, commonly using the foreign terms “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am.” Seemed a little pretentious at first, but it grew on me. Apparently, it grew on my son too. We encourage our kids to engage in lively conversation at the dinner table in an effort to keep lines of communication open. I do allow quite a bit of leeway regarding being respectful towards others, reining it in when necessary. That freedom seems to bring up formerly hidden situations dealing with friends that I may need to address. It seems to work well. I worried our neighbor’s boy might find this disturbing, but I decided not to warn him. During my son’s rampage about the practices of a certain teacher at his school and my counterargument in her defense, the neighbor boy nudged my kid and said “BT.” The table became silent. “BT?” my son asked, “What is BT?” The neighbor boy leaned into my son and whispered, “backtalk.” He was scolding my son for being disrespectful.
This was an extremely unusual yet interesting dynamic I had never experienced. I suppose the neighbor boy had his own incident of backtalking for which he was corrected at some point, probably by an adult. But a kid to kid correction? In my old neighborhood, that was grounds for an ass-kicking. Shoot, the corrective parents might have been beaten up too. This kid hadn’t been at my house for a full day, yet he was confident enough to offer corrective guidance to a near stranger. I have to admit, I liked what I saw. Over the week, with a few more reminders, my kid seemed a bit more respectful. He even did his homework and studied without being prompted, and with none of the usual complaints. A few weeks after the neighbor kid left, my son’s behavior still seems improved.
I invited the neighbors over for a glass of wine (beer is frowned upon in this neck of the woods) to discuss their trip, but more to discuss their parenting insights. His mother wouldn’t stop talking and I found it difficult to get a word in edgewise. I found a moment when she was able to breathe and interjected with my question about BT. She looked at me with her trademark Stepford death stare, and asked if her son had behaved himself. “He was an absolute angel,” I replied. “But how did the whole BT thing come about? You know, backtalk?” Obviously, she did not want to discuss that, as she asked where the powder room was. That was incredibly awkward, because we have virtually identical homes – only our powder room is called a bathroom. Her husband jumped in to change the subject to talk about his new solid bicycle tires as my wife led his mentally challenged partner to the powder room.
These engineering folks’ kids are really good kids. With a few exceptions, most of them are very smart, well behaved, and eager to learn. And that seems to be rubbing off on my son. No offense intended, but everyone hated school at the mostly Caucasian ghetto elementary he attended, and no one knew why. For the first time in his young life, my kid says he likes school and finds it interesting. I still can’t deal with those parents, but I have resolved to tolerate them and I am grateful for their spirit. Their children may be the catalyst for my own son’s success. There’s definitely some truth to George and Weezy’s madness.