There is an episode of Monk where the obsessive-compulsive lead character runs into a burning house to save his brother. On his way rushing through a smoke filled room, he pauses to straighten a stack of magazines. That would be my 11 year old son, affectionately known as "The Professor." More accurately we should call him "The Absent Minded Professor," but I fear a lawsuit from Fred MacMurray and will keep the shortened nickname. The Professor is incredibly smart, very responsible, very honest, and likely to walk out the front door without his shoes. The latter did, in fact, happen on Halloween night of his third year. We had visited two houses before I looked down and noticed his white socks glaring at me. Of course, that probably says as much about my mothering skills as The Professor's personality...
My children are my evidence if I'm ever in a debate over nature versus nurture. Two children raised with the same parents, same rules, same house, same pets, and as different as Hilary Clinton and George Clinton. While Foghorn displays the outrageous humor of a Jerry Lewis on crack, The Professor is morose and sardonic and a little like Woody Allen only more depressed and neurotic. He's the student every teacher loves to have and the kid all the other students forget exists. He would be like Charles Schultz who, I have heard, found out his name was on the list for his high school class reunion as "whereabouts unknown." Nobody thought that kid grew up to be the Charles Schultz. Good grief...
While Foghorn is the person most likely to get an innocent person the electric chair just for spite, The Professor is excruciatingly honest -- to the point where I've had to warn him he needs to lie a little, particularly to women when they ask about the state of their backsides in certain clothing. He is consumed with guilt over every minor infraction and given his personality almost all infractions are minor. Just a couple weeks ago he told me he wanted to confess that in 3rd grade he wrote a little on the top of a desk. He's in 6th grade now. I asked why in the world he was bringing it up three years down the line and he replied, "I've been feeling really guilty about it and wanted to get it off my chest." I don't know where this extreme sense of guilt comes from as he didn't even have my Catholic education.
While The Professor would never back talk a teacher or insult another student to his face or set a booby trap for the school janitor, he has no problem displaying these behaviors in his home life. Every family member has fallen prey to his sarcastic sword of a tongue. He is extremely precise in his language and delights in correcting every one else. His sister is routinely called an idiot. (Then again she routinely punches him in the "kiwis", so I guess fair is fair.) He has impossibly high standards for himself (and everyone else), so the entire household is made to feel about as competent as Kim Kardashian in a think tank.
The other side of his Jeckyl and Hyde personality makes Family Movie Night viewing torturous if the flick involves anything depressing, touching, romantic, overly happy, overly sad, or has any animal in danger. He also gets highly emotional over song melodies, lyrics, and pretty much anything involving loss. He steadfastly refuses to listen to The Beatles' song "No Reply" anymore because the song doesn't finish the story. The guy knocked on her door, he knows she's in there, she doesn't answer, but then what? Does she ever answer? Does she dump him? Do they get back together? My boy needs closure and John Lennon didn't give it to him when he wrote the song nearly 50 years ago.
The one thing The Professor and Foghorn do have in common is their joy in tormenting beloved Uncle Chester (my sister). During the holiday season they serenade her almost continuously with holiday songs that make her cringe, twitch, or nearly vomit. "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," "Poppa Santa Claus" by Bing Crosby, "Santa's Got an Airplane" by the Beach Boys, and "Love's What You Get for Christmas" by Bobby Sherman are all weapons in their musical arsenal. The Professor also likes to do his rendition of "Chester's Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and remind her repeatedly that she needs a pedicure.
The Professor is either destined for "Most Likely to Succeed" in the high school year book and/or "Most Likely to Take High Doses of Anti-Depressants in Adulthood."
-- Originally published January 4, 2011.
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