Friday, December 4, 2009

Life Lessons from Spongebob Squarepants

A. Peevie had told me last week that he wanted to be a leader among his friends, but he didn't know how to make it happen.

When this conversation started, I was thinking to myself, "Oh, that's so honorable, so beautiful, so mature that my boy wants to be a leader! He wants to help people make good choices, even though they might be hard ones. He wants to set an example for his classmates. He wants to inspire others to dream big dreams and reach for their goals!"

I was getting all Winston Churchill-y in my mind--but it turns out, A. Peevie had a different kind of leadership in mind.

"Mrs. Faker told us once that some kids are leaders, and some are followers," he said. "And I always end up being a follower. But I don't WANT to be just a follower! I want to be a leader sometimes, too!"

This sounded a little weird to me. Some kids are leaders, and some are followers? Did she really say that? And if she did, why? Was she trying to inspire, um, mediocrity? A sense of entitlement? A philosophy of determinism?

"Well, A. Peevie," I said, "I think it's possible that you may have misunderstood Mrs. Faker. I don't really know why she would say that."

"She did, mom," he insisted.

"Well, if she did, then I disagree with her," I said. "I believe that all kids are leaders sometimes, and all kids are followers sometimes. So you can be a leader, too!"

And here's where my dreams of Churchillian greatness started to crumble.

"But mom!" A. Peevie objected. "Every time I try to lead, nobody wants to follow!"

"What do you mean, A?" I asked.

"If I want to play a game, I tell the kids, but nobody ever wants to play what I want to play," A. Peevie explained. "They just follow The Archangel, or Xander, or Trog. I don't ever get to be the leader!" he finished with a decidedly un-leaderlike whine.

Later, I asked C. Peevie to give his perspective on A. Peevie's dilemma. "I don't know, Mom," he said, "I've never had that problem."

"But what would you do, C.," I asked him, "if you wanted your friends to follow your lead, but they didn't want to?"

"Talk louder," he said, with brutal simplicity, "and keep talking until they give in." And he meant it.

"A. Peevie," C. Peevie added, "You should take a lesson from Spongebob Squarepants. Remember when Plankton was teaching Spongebob how to be more assertive?"

"What's assertive?" A. Peevie asked.

"Assertive means saying what you want loud enough to get it," C. Peevie said. Or something like that.

"Plankton offers to teach Spongebob how to be assertive," C. continued. "He stands in Spongebob's mouth and yells at a little kid to give him his ice cream cone! 'Hey kid! Gimme your ice cream!' And the kid screams and drops his ice cream, and Spongebob says, 'Hey! he dropped his ice cream!'--and then Plankton laughs evilly because it's all part of his evil plan! 'Bwah- hah-hah!'"

By this time A. Peevie had forgotten his leadership woes and was cracking up in the back seat. C. Peevie continued with his slightly mis-remembered retelling of Spongebob's adventures in assertiveness, and any opportunity to add actual value to our discussion went up in giggles.

It was worth it, though. One kid was in his element, talking, telling tales, and entertaining his audience; and the other one was, for a brief moment, forgetting his sadness and frustration.

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