Jewish World Review Jan. 20, 2000 /13 Shevat, 5760
Yes, there are moments -- many -- when they are so winsome that you just want to freeze time. Benjamin, who will be 4 in February, is the last of my children I can still lift without risking serious injury. And a few weeks ago, when he waved excitedly and blew kisses to us from the pulpit in synagogue (the children are encouraged to join the rabbi at the end of every service), I beamed adoringly at him and wished we could remain like this forever.
Of course, there are other moments ...
Fighting between siblings can flare in a nanosecond, and the escalation can boggle the imagination of the most jittery NORAD general. One of the things adults find so annoying about children is their lack of perspective. What, to adult eyes, seems a trivial matter (who has custody of the tiny Lego helmet that goes on one of a thousand almost identical Legos in the box, whether the potatoes touched the peas on the dinner plate, who got a milligram more of ice cream, whether someone is making an annoying noise) can erupt into pitched battles. A typical adult, hearing the screams of rage that result from these trifling matters, is likely to explain that such an inconsequential matter hardly merits such a terrible row.
But there is an assumption planted in the adult mind that may well not be shared by the offspring -- namely, that fighting is draining and unpleasant.
To live with children for any length of time is to suspect that they secretly find battle quite bracing. I praise my children when they are cooperating, sharing and cheering each other on. And they do seem to enjoy those moments. But a good spat is fun, too.
When children first arrive, they are precious bundles requiring only tender care and love. But within a few short years, they are inheritors of the culture and representatives of it.
Our middle son, David, 6, must be the world's most impressionable child. Last year, his kindergarten teacher filled his head with a load of liberal propaganda. At the time, I never contradicted what he was learning in school because I was grateful to his teacher for making him so happy, and because, as a good conservative, I would not (except in extreme circumstances) undermine the authority of a teacher. Sometimes, David's interpretations were comical, as when he explained that though he was 5, and his best friend Nick was 6, they could still play together, "thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." But some of the other lessons he imbibed were less benevolent.
David now believes, along with countless millions of other American schoolchildren, that human beings are despoiling the planet, that every tree felled is a tragedy, and that white Europeans brought envy, greed and rapacity to a continent that until then had been living in idyllic harmony with nature. He is also convinced that the Dutch are far more praiseworthy than we because they recycle.
Mom was tempted to burst David's bubble by pointing out that the Dutch also euthanize the unwanted elderly, but that wouldn't be fair. A 5-year-old isn't responsible for the political views imposed on him by a well-meaning but tendentious teacher. For a variety of reasons, David is now attending a different school. And his evenings are so taken up with reading Harry Potter that he hasn't much extra imagination available to fret about the planet.
His new school stresses history, literature and science. He is learning a little Latin (he wanted to order Pollus McNuggests at McDonalds), French and classical music. Later, he'll study formal logic and Shakespeare. In short, he will be introduced to the rich inheritance available to every child in the world.
Isn't that better than a steady diet of gloom and guilt?
Though he was learning to walk only a heartbeat ago, he has already learned
a great deal about what it means to be an American boy in the year 2000. And
most of the lessons he's learned have been negative. We can correct that in
our home, but what becomes of a nation that teaches millions of children to