Since becoming a mother, it has become increasingly clear that kids come from Planet Zoltar.
I mean, where else would they develop such strange customs?
For example, when my 13-year-old, Joshua, comes downstairs for breakfast each morning, it is my earthly custom to look directly at him, smile, and say, “Good morning, Joshua!”
Evidently, it is not the convention on Planet Zoltar to say “Good morning!” in response. Rather, Zolatarians mumble something like “Gmrgggn” – if they bother to respond at all — without looking up, while simultaneously shoveling copious amounts of frosted mini wheats into their mouths.
Now, as a mother, I do feel like it is my responsibility to educate Zoltarians on our planet’s customs and cultural traditions. So I usually say something like, “Joshua. On Planet Earth, we say ‘good morning’ back when someone says ‘good morning’ to you.”
But, apparently, it is also not Zoltarian custom to appreciate such constructive educational tidbits — particularly first thing in the morning.
It doesn’t get easier as the day goes on.
I am often blamed, by my eldest Zoltarian, for seemingly random things such as hiding his shoes, making horrible lunches, not reminding him that he has swim practice today (despite the fact that he ALWAYS has swim practice on Mondays) and that he has way too much homework and that totally isn’t fair since his brother Jonah doesn’t have any at all and that is so lame since when HE was in fifth grade HE had like ten times as much homework.
As you know, on Planet Earth, none of these things are actually a mother’s fault — but on Planet Zoltar, clearly that is different. So I continue my mission to educate.
“Joshua,” I say. “On Planet Earth, your shoes stay exactly where you left them.”
Or, “Joshua. If you don’t like what your mom makes you for lunch, on Planet Earth you have the freedom to make your own lunch tomorrow.”
Then there’s my second Zoltarian, 11 year-old Jonah. It really should come as no surprise that each evening, when I offer him a lovely, home-cooked meal, he often responds with something like, “That looks diiisssssgggguuuussttttiiinnnnnggg. Do I HAVE to eat it to get dessert?”
As always, I try not to get annoyed since he is, after all, from a different planet’s culture and it is, after all, my responsibility to teach him appropriate earthly customs.
So I typically take a deep breath and inform him, “Jonah. On Planet Earth, we say ‘thank you’ when someone cooks you a delicious, nutritious dinner.”
But, obviously it is not standard on Planet Zoltar to express emotions such as gratefulness – particularly when the involved Zoltarian REALLY doesn’t want to finish his spinach but REALLY wants chocolate ice cream for dessert. Instead, on Zoltar, it appears to be considered mannerly to complain about life’s overall unfairness, whine at an ear-splitting frequency, moan as if in mortal pain, beg feverishly and yell incessantly – and eventually storm off to one’s room and slam the door.
While in general, I consider myself an open-minded, progressive mother – I confess that sometimes I find myself feeling rather flustered at these cultural differences between parents and kids. After all, things would be so much easier if our Zoltarians could simply emerge as fully integrated Earthlings.