The Germs vs. The Marshmallows

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Although it kind of sounds like something out of West Side Story–The Sharks vs. The Jets–The Germs vs. The Marshmallows isn’t quite so dramatic. The soundtrack’s not as good, and the choreography consists mainly of small jumps with our butts sticking out.

But, like the Broadway musical from the sixties, it’s mainly about human nature.

Here is among the first things I heard today, over the sound of running water as Mbot washed his hands after dashing to the bathroom so he wouldn’t explode:

Mbot: “Mom, do germs get germs on their hands, too?”

It’s proof, without a DNA test (as though the nine-months of crankiness, the spectacular expansion of the varicose vein network, and the C-section scar aren’t enough) that I am his biological mother.

The answer, of course, was ‘Oh yes. But for germs, SOAP is a germ! Cuz it makes them sick! Hah!” (And if THAT doesn’t mess with your sense of egocentrism, just wait ’til you’re a little older and we can discuss the theory of relativity (in laypersons’ terms, of course) and the fact that the popular physicists these days think there are multiple universes!)

I’m not bragging here, because I obviously didn’t go on to win the Nobel Prize in Anything, but when I was in the sixth grade, I used to walk the quarter mile to school by myself, and think things like this: I am going to school. But how do I know that I am going to school, and not that the school is coming to me?

And then I would go over all the reasons I could think of that the school wasn’t coming to me: If my friend Solveig, walking from the other direction, was also going to school, then, if the school were coming to me, she would never get there. But she DID always get there….I also figured that, from the point of view of Auke Bay, which was on my right, the school wasn’t moving either. Etc., etc. And so, at the age of eleven, I came to the conclusion that we lived in a world of shared perceptions, and whichever perceptions were shared by the most people seemed to constitute reality.

I didn’t put it into those words. I don’t think I ever put it into any words.

And it is more complicated than that. But I was on the right track. And the recognition that perceptions differ is an important part of empathy that parents and teachers try to strengthen in toddlers and pre-Ks, who don’t develop the ability to empathize until they are older. (Some, like those who caused the housing bubble and own large banks, never do.)

It is much more natural to only consider our own perceptions, and to defend our own existence in this world, just to keep ourselves real, in a very corporal sense. Thus, the last thing I heard this afternoon:

Gbot: “I have a dangerous butt to shoot out marshmallows! Psht! Psht! Psht!”

That line never made it into West Side Story. A shame, that.

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