Smart enough to have a smart mouth?
Some time ago, there was a comic strip called "Hi & Lois" -- the story of a family of four: the Dad (Hi), Mom (Lois) and girl-boy twins (Dot and Ditto). In one strip, Ditto was running around the house playing cops and robbers, with lots of shooting sounds and the sounds of wounded bad guys. Lois was making dinner and said "Ditto, take that noise outside."
Ditto replied "OK" then said "C'mon Noise, let's go outside." He followed that with "Sure, Ditto, let's go!" as if Noise had answered him.
To which Hi said to Lois, "I don't know whether to be upset that he is a smart-aleck, or appreciate the fact that he has an imagination."
I am reminded of that cartoon daily when dealing with our youngest child, Kyle, who is now 14 and in eighth grade.
Kyle is precocious, very intelligent, has a tremendous vocabulary, and gets away with just about everything. He's small for his age, and incredibly cute, and has a sharp, non-stop sense of humor.
He's a piece of work.
Almost daily he comes home with stories of funny things he said in class. It's not yuck-yuck class clown stuff; it's pithy remarks on the topic at hand. I have to admit, they are almost always inventive and funny in a "situation comedy" kind of way.
But I worry that teachers might not appreciate his attempts at humor. I ask him after nearly every remark "What did the teacher say?" Kyle always says the teacher doesn't mind. In fact, he claims to have one teacher who really appreciates his silliness.
But that is not always going to be the case. I worry about the day he meets a teacher without a sense of humor, or one who sees Kyle as a disruptive force.
Mr. Feeny would have hated him.
It's hard for me to be too punitive, because I occasionally did the same thing in school. I still do, in adult life. Many years ago, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was telling a group of reporters, including me, about a player who had an injured groin. He said it was difficult to predict when the player would come back to play because "the groin's a funny thing" to which I replied "I know; mine's hilarious."
But I know Kyle needs to respect authority, and understand there is a time and place for his kind of humor. It's my hope that he uses his intelligence to figure out when he can get away with a funny remark (he calls himself a "quipster") and when he has to play it straight.
The problem is, I don't know if Kyle knows how to play it straight. Because he has gotten away with his jokes so easily so far, his jokes-per-minute rate seems to have increased. He's a laugh machine.
Kyle plays soccer at a very high level, but that doesn't stop him from providing comic relief. When his team scrimmages, you can always hear his voice as he mocks teammates or promotes himself. "Did you see that pass?" I heard him yell over to a coach at a recent workout. Again, he got away with it, because his coach loves him, and I have had coaches tell me they appreciate his spirit.
Someday, he will have a coach who won't appreciate it so much.
Kyle's brother, Dan, who is two years older, is looking forward to that day. Dan has no grudge against Kyle; he loves his brother, and they have a lot in common, including a strong sense of humor. I bought them a book from The Onion that had nothing but sports stories in it, and they laughed together over it for weeks.
But Dan would be that coach who might not enjoy having a quipster on the team.
What Kyle has is a "joie de vivre" and I don't want to dampen that. I want to give him parental direction so that he doesn't have somebody someday pound it out of him. But they say knowing you have a problem is the first step.
The other day I was driving Kyle to his friend Kevin's house and he noted that one of Kevin's neighbors was a teacher and "she hates Kevin and me."
"Maybe that's because you and Kevin are tools," I suggested.
"Hey!" Kyle said. "Kevin's not a tool."
• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.