I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cats will be cats

There is nothing cuter than a lion cub practicing at being a lion, mustering all of his tiny ferocity into one unconvincing meow.  It is recognizable to us.  He is practicing.  Something in us sees in the furry prince the mighty king that is yet to be. 

So it is with our human cubs.  Something in us sees in the swagger and posturing of youth that same juxtaposition.  After all, we don’t want milquetoast youth – de-fanged and domesticated.  Although maybe we’re not so sure about facing down a sweaty, hormone-addled beast.   Our ambivalence on beholding the endearing cub and seeing the rough beast is inherent in the human condition.  Really, in the animal condition. 

My hope is that recognizing it, naming it, and putting it in its proper place can restore right relations among the generations, but not just that.  Because whether our own lion cubs make us want to cuddle them and scratch them behind the ears or reach for a whip and chair says a lot about us.  About where we’re at with race and class and gender.  It says a lot about what we think it means when a kid pumps the bass on his car radio or loiters or jaywalks or wears a hoodie. 

My mother would never let us hang out at the mall.  We could go if we had a goal – to buy this item or to see this movie – but she saw trouble in the idleness of teens.  She was a social worker in the community, so she likely knew more than she could disclose.  Plus, truth be told, we weren’t prepared to swear that we weren’t up to no good.  Despite being good kids at core – generous, helpful, kind – we would have been disappointed if no one found us menacing or shocking.   If we never pulled our lips back far enough to show our burgeoning fangs.

I know that I had a reputation for being smart, and that my reputation for being smart, at least at first, had a whole lot more to do with how my parents talked and what books we had in the house than any native intelligence of mine.  And that once you are perceived as smart, as gifted and talented, then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You learn this truth:  that the hardest classes are the easiest, because they are the spaces where you are given the benefit of the doubt. 

In those spaces, those traits that make you a good strong lion – mischief, aggression, obstinance, guile – which could easily be punished as infractions -- are celebrated.  Many of my friends, whose pranks were no more injurious, whose stance was no less affected, whose convictions were no less deeply held, were received  quite differently.  It was not lost on me that I could get away with it and they couldn’t.

This I believe:  Audacity in youth is not a vice.  It is a virtue.  And it’s going to express itself in the pedestrian trying to stare down the car or the entrepreneur trying to game the system or in the music that’s too loud or the pants that are too tight or too baggy or in the naked disdain and pity that stares back at us when we stare at them.  And it is good and right that it be so.   Because every lion cub has to scratch his claws.  Every lion cub has to practice his roar.  Else whence do we get our lions?