Friday, April 23, 2010

Keeping Up With the Joneses

So Miguel has asked us several times over the past year or so if he can have his own Facebook page.

“Why?” I’ve responded to our twelve-year old.

“Because everyone has one,” he has answered.

If ever there was a response designed to make a parent grab a child and scream, “Is that the best you can offer? So if all of your friends (fill-in the blanks) ‘jumped off the Golden Bridge’ or ‘robbed a bank’ or ‘sucked in massive quantities of tar and nicotine through their noses’…would you do the same?”

But I didn’t seize him by the neck and utter anything angry. I merely said, “Well, Miguel, Mommy and I don’t see the point. You’re not old enough yet.”

Believe me, I see the value in Facebook. I like reconnecting with old friends, sharing family photos, and learning a myriad of mundane details about all my friends’ personal lives—what so and so ate for breakfast, how the weather is at so and so’s mountain cabin, how so and so hates social media but uses social media to tell us, and how so and so coped while the spouse and kids were away all week.

I just don’t think Miguel needs to be rushed into that world before he is a teenager. Having a Facebook page is just adding another layer of less-than-personal brain numbing media to occupy his neurons when he should be engaging with the world, in my view, in healthier ways. Such as reading books, playing board games, babysitting at the park for his little sister, doing household chores, or tossing a baseball with his father? Oh, wait, Miguel already does all that.

And truth be told, there is some merit to the ‘because everyone has one’ argument. It’s the reason I begged my parents to buy me my first pair of white high-top Converse Chuck Taylor All-star sneakers when I was about 10 or 11.

For the most part, we all want to fit in and have that secret language or objects to share at work or school about something, anything, the latest news from American Idol, the raciest gossip about Tiger Woods, the newest fashion fad, etc. So I certainly want Miguel to feel included or cool or whatever someone poised to become a teenager needs to be to avoid hours of therapy (fat chance), blaming his parents for his social retardation (fatter chance), and becoming a ward of the state (fattest chance).

Fitting in is often good, but conformity sometimes exacts a high measure of revenge. I was picked on fairly often when I was in grade school, but I never shied away from attacking someone else when the target was Kathleen Nauss. I remember vividly on several of us taunted her mercilessly one day on the school bus, with the purely fictitious charge that she’d gone to the bathroom in her pants and stained her underwear, so she bolted one stop early, tears streaming down her face.

Years later, while we were in high school, she died in a car crash. In my simple view of the world back then, I looked at some of the rougher kids in her crowd, dangerous types with whom she sought solace after years of childhood abuse during school, kids who let her fit in, and blamed her associations with the ‘wild’ crowd and alcohol for her accident.

I could not have even told you who her friends in high school were, much less what they did for fun and to escape, but I blamed myself for being part of the cruel brigade that ‘forced’ Kathleen to choose delinquency and inclusion that led to her death.

Five or six years later, at our first high school reunion, I confessed my sins to another classmate, Dorothy L., who corrected me and said, “Kathleen wasn’t drinking and driving. Her car malfunctioned, something about the steering, and that caused the crash.”

I didn’t really breathe any easier. I still never got to apologize to her for willingly conforming to the mob and acting like everyone else.

Not that I shared any of this with Miguel.

Yet.

I will save the story for another day. In the meantime, I was on Facebook last Friday, once again contributing to America’s massive decline in workplace productivity, when I plugged in my email address in order to see which of my contacts might have Facebook accounts. Lo and behold, there was a picture of Miguel Friedman, our son, clad in a Yankees t-shirt (which only heightened his crime) and smiling out at the world.

No, I said to myself, it can’t be. Miguel has a Facebook page after Verna and I expressly told him he could not yet have one?

Miguel was on vacation last week, which included four sleepovers, so he was actually at another friend’s house. I quickly placed the call.

“Hi Allison (not her real name), may I speak to Miguel?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled when he got on the phone.

“Miguel, what did Mommy and I say when you asked about getting a Facebook page?”

“No.”

“And no means what?” I asked.

“No.”

“So then tell me why I just came across your Facebook page? When did you do this?”

“At Aaron’s (not his real name) house a few nights ago. Can I keep it? I already have 75 friends.”

“Miguel, you got a page after we told you no.”

“Can we discuss it?” he pleaded.

“Yes, we’ll talk about it later. I’m going to have to tell Mommy.”

During the day I queried one of my co-workers, a father of two, including a young teenager, and one of the residents at the retirement community where we work, a woman in her 70s. I debated back and forth. I called Allison, at whose home Miguel was still enjoying the day—Monopoly, two Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and baseball soccer on the front lawn (it involves a bat and a soccer ball). On one hand, I was inclined to let this one go. Miguel’s had to take on extra responsibility and control himself more as Verna’s chemo treatments have progressed. On the other hand, he went behind our backs and betrayed our trust.

Everyone I talked to agreed I had to terminate his Facebook page. I phoned Verna to make sure we were on the same, um, page. As a side note, Verna does not and will not ever have a Facebook page. She emails, surfs the Internet, and watches Netflix movies on her laptop. But she can’t be bothered with anything involving social media.

So after dinner, before Miguel settled in to watch the Giants baseball game, I said, “Miguel, you’re going to have to get rid of your Facebook page?”

“Why?” he asked.

After I explained our reasoning, he didn’t look upset, just resigned to the reality of our authority. “And if you can maintain our trust, we can re-visit you having a Facebook page when you are 13.”

It turns out that Facebook is as ubiquitous as fungus and right-wing talk radio (you just can’t get rid of the stuff once it spreads). With Miguel watching, I was only able to deactivate his account. He can resume it at anytime, after, presumably, he and his computer hacker buddies figure out how to hide his page from the public and overly curious parents.

On the car ride the next morning, I elaborated, “Miguel, Mommy and I have to able to trust you. What’s next? Are you going to drink and smoke behind our backs when you sleep at a friend’s house? Do we need to stop the sleepovers?”

I was half expecting in an overly optimistic parental way that he’d respond, “Dad, no need to worry, I don’t have to be like everyone else.”

But he’s not there yet and may never be. Time will tell us all how Miguel defines fitting in.

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