Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Hey, Kid! Go play with sticks."

Recently, my parents, our good friends, Doug and Carol, and Leon and I had a conversation about today's overly parented child.

You know the type ~ the poor child whose parent obsesses over every tiny detail; calls the teacher with insane worries and requests; actually watches their high school student's class-by-class attendance online via Power School and calls the teacher immediately if Junior is late to class, demanding an explanation; the early childhood parent more worried about Sally being gently disciplined (because it will most likely damage her fragile sense of emerging self) than by the fact that Sally can't recognize her alphabet letters; Helicopter Parents.

That bane of childhood who have taken all the fun out of growing up: no more home-baked birthday treats (somebody might have a peanut allergy or somebody’s parent might use fatty oils and real sugar); no more bicycles without helmets (though we still have school buses without seatbelts, go figure); no more climbing trees and playing sword fight with sticks or eating dirt or exhausting oneself playing with the neighborhood kids till all hours; no more hopping fences. We want a well-packaged childhood; after all that’s what’s safest for the children (plus, they don’t ruin their baby UGG boots and Ralph Lauren, monogrammed backpacks).

When I look at the rules and regulations of today's pre-middle school set and the obsessive tendencies of parents even on the high school level, I wonder how my generation escaped childhood alive. I mean, for crying out loud, didn't my parents love me?! They let me carry a backpack loaded with books and didn't give me a wheeled suitcase to haul my things! I could be crippled or maimed! Are they going to pay my chiropractic bills? They didn't feed me organic everything ~ I actually ate Mac and Cheese made with (gulp) powdered cheese PRODUCT! I ate cookie dough batter made with (brace yourselves here) RAW EGGS! I could have high cholesterol or worse! Dangerous hoydens.

Lest you think we intend to raise Sydney with no rules or sense of safety ~ let me be clear to say that Leon and I fully own that the world is a "dangerous" place. We also appreciate the opportunity to make smart choices and protect our child in a world that largely feigns deep care for the young, but consistently creates systems that threaten them. (And I do love baby UGG boots … come on, seriously cute!) The point is not to be typically-American and pendulum swing 100% the other direction (I mean, after all we seem to live in a culture that absolutely refuses a moderate position on anything from politics to how I feed my baby) ... The point is, all this perfectionist parenting scares me just a little because I have a tendency to ... (I'm sure this will SHOCK most of you) people-please and push for perfection.

Seriously. The other day Leon and I got into a discussion about which language to introduce Syd to (in addition to English of course) from the start. I don't want a million toys, books and games with 15-different languages, so I want to pick just one. You know: Mandarin is all the rage but Spanish is so practical ... oh dear. Here we go ... Gen X parenting! STOP the madness.

I am slowly developing this theory about my generation as parents; we who graced TIME magazine as the apathetic generation; whose Boomer parents were criticized for leaving us to fend for ourselves as latchkey kids and ATARI addicts (and who, true to form really didn’t care all that much about the criticism). The result is … I think we are truly overcompensating.

You can almost hear the inner mantra: “WE won't raise our kids that way. WE will be involved parents. WE will make SURE people know how completely in tune we are with our child's every need. BE GONE peanut butter; BE GONE getting to know neighbor kids whose parents I don't know (and don't care to walk down the street to get to know ...); BE GONE childhood wildness!”

We'll see how Leon and I do once our little girl is here. Truth is; I was raised to be inventive and imaginative. Super-sized plastic Fischer Price kitchen that (as a friend recently wrote me) is larger than my living room? Who needs it! I loved building a clubhouse (and one very inventive time, a house boat!) out of large moving boxes. Crazy bike-like toy that attaches to my television so that my child can peddle like a mad gerbil in a cage and get some exercise? Go ride your bike outside! (Oh, wait … our neighborhood eschewed sidewalks for larger lawns … )

But maybe Sydney will want these things? Maybe she won't appreciate a mom and dad who tell her to play with sticks? Maybe she won’t want to lick the cake batter bowl because she learned about salmonella at school? Will we be able to provide our child with a sense of old-fashioned play and adventure and risk in a 2008 world of risk management, helmets and home-baking free classrooms?

I think we owe it to her to try ...

Then again ...

Maybe I am just inviting disaster. How does one say, "It's all fun and games ..." in Madarin anyway?

For more on this topic, check out Chris Mercogliano’s new book, In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids' Inner Wildness. [Click here] to read an interview.


The Gauntlets said...

I've been reading the Anne of Green Gables series just for kicks. I'm sure your remember the scene in Rainbow Valley where young Walter takes another boy to the mat because that other boy dared to mock Walter's female friend? And then the town pastor PRAISED Walter for having the guts to defend a woman's honor? And his mother dressed his wounds and told him she was PROUD of him?

Yeah. I kinda wish I was raising kids in those days. Really, I kinda wish I was raising kids in THAT BOOK. *sigh*

I do admit to being a bit crazy about what my kids eat. I don't get fake food. We skip powdered everything and go straight for the homemade, deep-fried donuts. Mmmmmm.

CStaude said...

I love this post! I love you! You will be a marvelous set of parents! Break out those sticks and have a blast!

Jamie said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have said, I just can't say it so eloquently! Naomi loves to play with sticks and she loves to eat the acorns that have fallen off the tree...I'm just trying to teach her to not ACTUALLY eat them. It's a battle but one that I think you can win!

Christiane said...

I highly recommend reading "How Much is Enough?" by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson, and David Bredehoft. It's a great primer on how to steer clear of some of the most common pitfalls of our generation of parents! I seriously want to give the book to every parent and grandparent I know!