It’s fall already and I'm not yet in sync with the new school schedule. Our year is split into trimester periods with each having unique schedules only subtly different from all those which proceeded it. I am scarcely used to the flow of one trimester when the next one begins.
This semester we've added Jesse’s soccer, the Boys’ Cub Scouts, dropped choir, and have homework every night. The big print giveth, the small print taketh away.
I’m exhausted. I’m so tired I can’t muster the energy to spit. The kids sense this and take advantage. They can tell I’m confused and use this confusion to try and circumvent every rule, regulation, and request I make of them. The result is chaos--pure and simple chaos. I’m in full herd dog/chauffer mode and I suck at both jobs.
Part of the problem is that kid activities now demand far more time and parental participation than they did when I was a kid. The amount of time expected for the average children's activity today, compared to the Stone Age when I was a kid, has got to be double if not more. Much of this is fueled by the child recreation industry which has grown huge and fat on the wealth and abundance of leisure time our “have it all” kids’ culture demands. Considering that the average suburban family has fewer than 2 children, today, communities like the one I live in expect children to participate in a constant flow of high demand activities. For families like ours--having 4 children--I need either two additional parents or a slack in the pace of our kid's activites. Or, I suppose, I could run away from home...that's an interesting idea, but, for all my complaining, I rather like my children, my wife, and the rest of our familly. Plus, who would give me presents on holidays were I to run away, change my name, enter a parent protection and relocation plan, or join the circus? I guess I'll stay.
However, I pity the fools who make their living from Kids' activities. Dealing with other people’s self-indulgent and spoiled children all day every day has to be a hard job.
On the other hand, these are the same people who fluff the vanity and ego of the overly competitive parents in order to hook them into high priced, time intensive activities. So, if they get ulcers, anxiety disorders, and other nasty problems. Boo Hoo.
Regardless, the world is far different today than when I was a Kid. I’m not going to say if this is good or bad—it’s just different. I’m not the kind who looks back on the “good old days” as some type of idealized paradise. The past was what it was, today is what it is, and tomorrow will be a combination of the two—not better or worse, just more of the same plus more of the same.
However, I know my family didn’t have any activities which required out of state travel on a constant basis. Yes, when I was middle school and high school age, we had occasional activities that featured travel. These were few and far between. Today, we traveling soccer clubs that start at age 3.
Age 3? That's right. Because it is of the utmost import to weed out the future Pele's from those with who don't have the "special kind of family" required for such serious competition. Because sports are the be all and end all of human endeavor, we must start kids on the road toward the agony of defeat before they are out of diapers.
This seems both exploitive and sad that parents are so easily suckered into believing that it is possible to tell that their 3 year old has the requisite talent to spend 49 weeks a year traveling around the country to soccer matches, spending 3 or 4 nights a week on team practice, individual coaching, strength training, and all the other elements that a "special kind of family" must do to properly develop their child's sporting abilities.
George Carlin has a bit where he describes the parents who follow this particular path as turning their children into "cult objects." That's an interesting perspective and one that I think I might agree with. I know parents who purposely limit their family size so their child can have all their time and attention. This is probably good if you are designing a method of child rearing whereby a child is made to feel special, loved, the center of the universe, perpetually self-absorbed, impossible to see anyone’s needs outside their own, and develop into a sociopathic, and possibly psychotic adult. Is this an extreme characterization? Maybe, but remember, both Charles Manson and Satan were only children.
I think I’ve made my case.
This focus on the single child also leads parents to be in a constant state of anxiety where the parent tries to fulfill the child’s every need or whim and solve his or her every problem. I frequently observe parents who seem incapable of saying no to their children. Aside from seeming to be not particularly good for the child, it deprives the parent of what may be the only truly enjoyable parenting activity. For example, here is a common scenario in my home:
[Daddy has just begun a very important activity. The activity, perhaps reading the newspaper or taking a nap, has been repeatedly interrupted by the petty needs of his 4 children]
Child: Daddy? Daddy: No. Child: I didn't say anything. Daddy: I don't care, the answer is no. Child: But daddy… Daddy: Did you understand what I said Child: Yes. Daddy: What did I say Child: You said that you weren't interested in this winning lottery ticket I found between the cushions of the sofa. Daddy: Is that what you were going to tell me? Child: No. Daddy: Good. The answer is still no.