Time Travel Forward

Ranging through time has allowed us to see that children have it much better than they used to.  They aren’t treated like property, and have a much better chance of living to adulthood than they did a thousand years ago.  Even only a hundred years ago.  Getting away with murder is pretty much a thing of the distant past, as far as children are concerned.

And then there’s physical abuse.  Our society is getting better at finding out those people who are hurting their own children.  If you’re an anti-government fundamentalist who believes your home is your castle and you are the lord, tough.  A child is not property, and the rest of us hope that your child becomes a productive and happy member of society.  You may have created that child, but the rest of us are going to be working with him, meeting him for lunch, and maybe even marrying him.  It’s in our best interest to make sure you don’t deliver damaged goods to the rest of us.

And here’s where it gets interesting.  Because our time machine has shown us that parents can be tricky.  When murdering children got unpopular, parents simply sold their children off as apprentices or slaves.  And now that physical abuse is going out of style, those same parents (though born hundreds of years later) are turning to more subtle, less physical means of abuse.

I know of a young lady who is carrying some extra weight.  She’s young, and she’s had a tough childhood because her parents are idiots.  But the real issue for her is that her father is making his love (and financial support) conditional upon her losing weight.

To her credit, she has a good attitude (at least to me) and is making some effort at losing weight.  But she is also having to bear this handicap bestowed upon her by her father.  For the rest of her life she will think that it’s normal to play these tricks upon children, possibly her own children, in order to make them do what she wants.  Or worse, these psychological abuses will hurt her chances of having her own happy life.

We don’t know, and can’t, yet.  All I know is that this form of parenting is considered acceptable in our day and age.  Perhaps someday the father would be found guilty of abuse and stopped.  I hope so.  Perhaps we can use our time machine to make the world better for my young friend.

Except it only goes forward at one speed.



Teaching neuroses

As I watch our daughter walk across the stage and accept her diploma, I can instantly see a backdrop filled with scenes from her childhood.  At two she sneaked up on me while I napped, and bit my nose!  At three she fell off a stool and her teeth went through her lower lip; I encouraged her to laugh instead of cry.  At four she went to Paris, barely making the plane because of the flu.  (Thank you Doctor Jeff!)  So on and so forth – so many little incidents that underlie the tapestry that becomes her life, her personality.

Throughout her mother and I have taught her our critical values: keeping a cool head, flexibility, non-judgmental, enjoying good food, foreign ways, and frugality.  We also taught her the importance of being a good citizen, but that’s for another day.

We didn’t teach her these in school, we taught her through daily example.  In each of the significant events of her past, we lived our values; and through living, passed them on to her.

Our daughter is grown, but we know of others.  One friend has a beautiful daughter who is being taught values that we know, as adults, will cause her great pain.  Her mother is smart, beautiful, has a voice like an angel, and is a good friend.  She also knows that her neuroses regarding time, cleanliness, and order, are damaging to herself.  But we don’t know if she knows that she is now passing these same neuroses onto her daughter.

Yes, we’ve tried to say something.  Yes, we have tried to set a good example.  Yet each time the “intervention” has ended very badly.

At the tender age of four, our little friend greeted my wife at the door with “You’re late!”  I have seen our tiny friend take great care to make sure her things are in the proper order when she’s done with them.  I suggest that she doesn’t have to do these things, yet she does.

The reason she does these things is that she loves her mother, without question, with only the purest sort of love that a child can feel for a parent.  And she knows that her mother’s love is contingent on order, on timeliness, and other things we can only guess.  The mother is in the process of creating a young woman who will have to try and conquer many of the same fears as she.  Extra challenges in a world already full of challenge.

Will the day ever come when parents are so understanding of their own behavior that they can choose not to pass on their own neuroses?


Selling our Childhood to the highest bidder

Is it only me?  Or does anyone else out there get the sense that childhood, in general, is being coopted by corporate capitalists?

Not being big on the whole sit and watch TV for hours on end crowd, I only catch up on the popular shows when our daughter insists on watching something she knows we’ll like.  She does know us, and she does have great taste.

So we’re watching the chef known for swearing, Gordon someone, managing a reality – elimination show with kids.  The children are cooking at a professional level, and that, I confess, was very exciting.  These kids were amazing, and the foods they prepared were all scrumptious.  The kids weren’t the problem.

The problem was that the three professional chefs running the contest were being very nice, well behaved, and treating the kids politely.  But in the end, they were teaching the kids to be extremely competitive, to fear elimination for trying something extraordinary, and worst of all, teaching them how to try and eliminate each other.  The most hurtful moment for me was when Chef Gordon sits with a little girl in the balcony, asking her about her strategy, and she confesses that she keeps her friends close, but her enemies closer.

I’m not faulting Chef Gordon.  Chances are he really is a nice guy and the whole swearing thing is an act.  He may actually be a decent chef.  But he’s part of an industry that uses childhood as a resource, a resource that he is able to turn into money.  Yes, the winner got $100,000, but Chef Gordon probably earns a million from the show.  And each child, even the winner, has been subjected to forces they would otherwise have been protected from.  Do we know if those forces make them better people in the long run?

Forces you say?  What forces?

Who among you think that any of these kids saw the ads (targeting them, no doubt) asking for contestants, and said “I want to do this.”?  There may have been a few, but I’m confident that most of the ambition comes from their parent, or parents.  What kid of 8 to 13 is interested in making a hundred grand?  Typically they’ll settle for a ten, or ask for a quadrillion.

And how many of you know of parents who go crazy on their kids at sporting events?  Or go crazy on the referees or coaches? Or upon their teachers in school?  These are the same parents who only want the best for their little darlings, but heaven help the adult who gets in the way of their dreams of success.  And how do you succeed?  Any way you can.  And this is what they teach their kids.  Scheming, devious friendships, shallow relationships, and the importance of today’s reward.  There is no more great moral code, and there is no pride in yourself for only being yourself – your success will be measured by your wallet, and by the number of your online friends.

Again, it’s not the chef’s fault.  In fact, we can find suspects as far back as the mid 1900s when Walt Disney combined his film franchise (targeting youth) with an amusement part (again, targeting youth) and tried to encapsulate the entire experience of childhood.

So what should a childhood look like?  I look forward to your comments!