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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Under the Influence

“Why are you wearing your pants like that?” She looked like a pint-sized Punky Brewster—one pant leg was cuffed to mid-calf, the other was rolled as high as it could go.
“I have to. Isabelle says if I don’t wear ‘em like this, she’ll bite me.”

My goodness. Peer pressure starts at a younger age than I could have ever imagined.

It was August, and Mia had just started formal preschool. Because of her September birthday, and because she was the tallest child in the world, they’d decided to place her in with the three-year-olds, even though she wasn’t quite old enough yet.

I hoped this Isabelle would be moving on to the fours, or this was going to be a long year.

While I overreacted and fretted to Russ, Hannah tried to explain to Mia the merits of independent thinking.

“So Mia, if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”
“I don’t know, Hannah. Would you? Would you jump off the bridge?"
Mia gazed up at Hannah in solemn admiration. "Because if you would, then I would, too. But if you wouldn’t, I probably wouldn’t, either.”

Hannah sighed and called out, “A little help over here, guys?”

I tried to help. “What she’s saying is, you don’t have to do what people tell you to do—“

Russ interrupted me. “You should do what some people tell you to do. You should definitely follow directions from your mommy and your daddy and your teachers.”

Whew! Good save!

“Biting is mean,” he continued. “Only mean friends bite. Good friends don’t bite. The next time Isabelle says she’ll bite you, you tell her, ‘Good friends don’t bite,’ okay?”

“Good friends don’t bite,” Mia affirmed.

I wondered how long that strategy would work, though.

Wouldn’t it be weird if we lived in a world where adults curried influence with a threat of biting? If all you had to do was grin fiercely and bare your teeth to get out of a traffic ticket? If a growl or snarl at the DMV could get you to the front of the line sooner?

Good thing good friends don’t bite. What a relief that this isn’t how things work in the world! Mia would be fine—she’s grown to have a good head on her shoulders and thick skin—but I’d be a mess. Can you imagine the germ transfer of all that biting?

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