My son seems to be testing the hypothesis that he can more easily get what he wants if he expresses his desires in terms that might be used by a 50-year-old diplomat. Unfortunately, four-year-olds don’t always understand the meanings of the words necessary to overwhelm their parents with polite graciousness.
We were playing at the train table in the back room. I had the baby as well. This meant that we could choose to have all of our creations destroyed almost immediately by the continuous tornado of infancy, or we could subject ourselves to constant crying as I held the baby back from his sworn duty to deconstruct any system giving off the odor of intentional design.
I was in favor of letting the whirlwind run amok. Big Brother voted for incessant wailing. Neither choice was a good one, but the final decision was mine. The boy, weighing the balance of power within the room, turned to diplomacy. “I’ve got a great idea,” he said. “Let’s leave the baby with those gentlemen.” He pointed, in his open-handed way, through the kitchen toward the living room.
Hearing my son refer to any people as gentlemen left me befuddled and amused. There were indeed two people in the living room, and for a second I imagined that they were the foreign ministers of Germany and France. In fact, they were my wife and her sister. I was about to tell him, “That’s no gentleman; that’s my wife,” but I realized it wouldn’t be funny to him, or to anyone else.
Instead, I asked, “Do you know what gentlemen means?”
“Yeah, it means girls.”
“Listen,” I commanded, as I began to speak slowly. “Gentlemen, gentle . . . men, men. It means boys.”
A true diplomat must have the ability to adapt to a changing situation. He must have the skill to address a new reality without any embarrassment or regret over what no longer obtains.
Before I could even get around to asking him if he understood, my son’s arm was raised again, his open palm indicating the path to the living room. “I’ve got a great idea. Let’s leave the baby with those gentle ladies,” he said.
I’m signing him up to take the Foreign Service Exam. I just hope it doesn’t have a vocabulary section.