“I am Groot,” is what I should have said, but that’s his line. Instead I said it in my native tongue, and this time with feeling: “You’re being a jackass.”
And he was.
Still, calling my son names in a fit of anger hadn’t been on my Sunday morning itinerary. Rather, I had planned for it to open like every Sunday does, with Nina Simone playing over cups of coffee, me in an apron and something on the griddle dangerously close to burning.
Plan B, apparently, was standing in the doorway of my sons’ shared bedroom, repeating myself in competition with electronics that they weren’t supposed to be on, and getting syllables laced in sass thrown back in my general direction.
“You’re being a jackass” was an unplanned reaction, a reflex of frustration aimed at my oldest. It hit us both sharply in the chest, just slightly left of middle.
If you have seen Avengers: Infinity War then you are familiar with Groot, the teenage tree creature, who appears to have an electronic device (Defender!) growing out of his hand like the beeping bud of a digital spring. And if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War, then I don’t even know who you are anymore.
Anyway, Groot spends much of his time playing on his device, despite being told not to, and bouncing shade and sass off every forehead that faces him. The similarities between Groot’s behavior and that of my eldest son were not lost on anyone in our family, even — and perhaps to his credit — him. And still, as soon as his phone is ordered back in his pocket it is out again, seemingly involuntary, all apps set to attitude.
The thing about Groot is that everything he says, assuming he can bother to look up from his game, sounds like “I am Groot” to those that don’t speak his language (some school districts offer it as an elective, just not on Earth). We, the audience (consisting mainly of Earthlings), have to rely on the reactions of other characters in the film to know what was said. Tone and translation are universal tools.
The only real difference between my teenage son and Groot is that my kid wears pants, at least when he leaves the house. The similarities, however, are many. For instance, they are each pubescent saplings, armed in body spray and eye rolls.
Fortunately, like seasons to foliage, it is only a phase. Just as Groot finds the right moments to set down his device and rise to the occasion, so too does my son surprise me with random acts of kindness and responsibility, his deep empathy and doing the right thing, unconnected.
It is a phase we must get through together. My fighting apathy with anger is not the solution.
Breakfast was served in smoke and silence, save Nina Simone softly singing.
“I am Groot,” I said in tones of honest sincerity, meaning every bit of it.
“I am sorry,” was all he heard.