Last week, in what can only be described as one of those “thank God the kids are soon going back to school” kind of days, my saintly wife came downstairs. I happened to be at work, but according to her retelling later that night, upon entering the kitchen, she discovered the remains of what had apparently been an energetic chocolate milk factory.
In addition to the telltale signs of juvenile shenanigans, a trail of toddler-sized chocolate footprints across the counter directly implicated our youngest daughter, all of 2.
At the time, I chuckled and told my exhausted life partner that she should have taken a picture and posted it to Facebook. She was not amused.
I too lost my sense of humor the following Sunday, when, upon coming downstairs that morning, I discovered another kitchen scene with the telltale signs that “Bracha was here.” Apparently not satisfied with her chocolate milk venture, she had climbed atop the same counter to reach for the spices, which she used to concoct what can only be described as a colorful, pungent and expensive — first-world problem, I know — glob that was now oozing thankfully into the sink.
What I saw reminded me of a story my mother tells of my own toddlerhood: I had once, in the middle of a dinner party, made my way into the eat-in portion of our kitchen to methodically destroy my mother’s prized African violets, leaf by precious leaf.
Kids, I guess, will be kids.
Our better selves intuitively recognize this crucial fact. Kids do explore, and naturally in ways that give meaning to the phrase, “terrible twos.”
Most of us, though, would never extend the license we grant children to adults. And yet, we hear the excuse — or variants of it — that “boys will be boys” with, what appears to me at least, growing rapidity.
Last fall, it was invoked by those giving a certain presidential candidate a pass for a lengthy foray into vulgarity in the course of a conversation with a television host. Last week, it came in the context of New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s press conference following his club’s 10-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
I didn’t watch the game, but the highlights sure do make for some interesting viewing. The game, which engendered headlines across the nation, is now famous for an unprecedented three bench-clearing brawls and the ejection of Girardi and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.
By the time he faced the media, Girardi was clearly ticked, but his full-throated defense of his players is telling: “Boys will be boys in the heat of the moment,” he said. He later qualified his remark, but in my opinion, that one sentence might help explain all that is currently wrong with our society.
A hallmark of adulthood — for most of us, at least — is the understanding that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. And just because you can say it — the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, after all — doesn’t mean that you should utter speech that is vile or hateful.
In the Yankees’ case, the actions at issue are borderline assault, for which human nature or “boys being boys” is not a valid defense. That alone makes the embrace of such violence so scary and reminiscent of other sports’ problems with domestic violence and other illegal behavior.
But if fans are so quick to excuse behavior inside a stadium that outside of it would warrant prosecution, is it any wonder that so much of America is apparently willing to give a collective sigh to the ravings of anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who, for the most part, are engaging in legally protected speech?
Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather my toddler grow up in a society that values restraint over instinct, cognition over emotion, and dialogue over violence.
In my home, that begins with her mother and I lovingly telling her, “no.” In our do-whatever-you-want, say-whatever-you-want version of America, that’s a word that unfortunately we haven’t heard in a long time.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected].