Jewish World Review July 1, 1999 /17 Tamuz 5759
Thanks to the post-boomer advent of competitive parenting, children no longer are allowed merely to have fun.
Not even at birthday parties. No longer special days for cake and balloons, birthday parties now must be instructive.
An Associated Press story recently described a "smart party," which featured a paleontologist leading children around a junkyard looking for dinosaur bones. The narrative dripped with precious precocity, leaving me wistfully dry-eyed and nostalgic for Dickens. Meanwhile, whatever happened to pin the tail on the donkey? Here's what.
Overachieving, guilt-ridden, day-care, quality-time, dual-career yuppie moms and dads have tossed the donkey into the recycling bin - along with the paper dolls and cat's-eyes of their own deprived youths - and turned their kids' single special day into a didactic opportunity.
These parents, after all, haven't been choking down coffee in two-hour commutes so their kids can climb trees and drool over mud pies. They've sacrificed sanity so their kids can have the best - whether they want it or not.
Another party caterer, a rung or two down from the paleontologist, is Kathy Burkholder of Kathy's Critters in Redondo Beach, Calif. For $10 to $15 per child, Burkholder provides an animal-education program, featuring two emperor scorpions named Nero and Napoleon; Medusa, a 10-foot Burmese python; and Bubba, an American bullfrog who, says Burkholder, "looks exactly like the frog in the beer commercial." What? No Joe Camel?
"A lot of parents really seem to want education over clowns," says Burkholder. "They prefer getting their money's worth."
I'm in favor of banning clowns - they give me the creeps - but couldn't we substitute a tree with branches for climbing? Well, no, not unless we can study the tree in some ecological context. Perhaps we could cut it down and count its rings, combining both a math and science lesson. Think of the SAT value of slaughtering a live oak! Gives you chills, doesn't it?
As for education, seven hours a day, five days a week, followed by piano, dance, soccer, cheerleading and gymnastics isn't enough? Why not night school? Saturday classes? Personally, I think we should consider putting the little bums back into the work force. What's all this twiddling our toes, whining about being hungry and wanting hugs all the time? Sheesh, these kids today.
One of the parents quoted in the AP story proudly recalled treating her 6-year-old daughter and friends to a day at the museum where they made Japanese carp kites and learned Japanese greetings. This bargain-basement yawn was just $200 for 15 children.
"The more education she has, the more opportunities will open up for her," said the mother. "I just want to know the educational choices we make are best for her, so that down the road we have no regrets."
Ironically, such mothers generally are spared the burden of regret given that regret suggests reflection. Can anyone really believe that a 6-year-old needs to celebrate her birthday learning Japanese phrases? A reflective person might stumble across the concept that a 6-year-old would enjoy "playing" at a park. As for regret, how does stealing childhood grab you?
Every moment of a child's day does not have to be meaningful or instructive. Common sense tells us that much, though if you need research and scientific studies, there's plenty out there that says, leave your kids alone and let them play. More than ever, today's Day-Timer kids need down-time, not more structured activities.
Most likely, parents who force-feed their children Interesting Experiences and Organized Fun lack the imagination to do otherwise. Given time, they can say "sayonara" to their children's imaginations, too. That is, if Mommy paid attention at the birthday
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