“And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me.” — Harry Chapin
Yesterday’s topic stuck with me for awhile. Sometimes these commentaries seem unfinished. I remember in college we had a specific number of column inches to cover. The most coveted spot was above the fold and that was a cool 16.6 column inches. I have no idea how many words that amounted to, but every columnist was shooting for that spot.
Hitting the spot often meant leaving some material on the cutting room floor. I don’t have column inches here, but I do have people’s natural attention spans. If a treatise on Locke and Hobbes ends up being as long as their treatise’s then my audience will glaze over by the 12th or 13th paragraph. They likely won’t come back again.
Turning a kid from a kid into a functioning adult is harder work than one imagines. At least, it’s harder than one imagines before they are tasked with the job. Life is full of firsts and each one brings its own interesting twists and turns. Yesterday, my daughter got her first high school tardy. For someone that hardly ever gets in trouble, it was a lot more traumatic than it needed to be.
That combined with a complaint about how much playing time she is getting on the volleyball team sets up the perfect template for a life lesson. The tardy wasn’t completely her fault. Somehow, they never are. The lack of playing time is not completely fair. I’ve been on the other end of that argument and I know it really never is.
The challenge for any parent is determining which (if any) of these situations to get involved in and which to let go as a learning experience. We’ve decided to split the difference. We offer advice on how to deal with the situation so she can get more playing time or get her tardy expunged, but ultimately she is going to have to do it for now. That may change if an adult doesn’t respond responsibly, but that rarely ever happens.
The question of whether to allow children to fight their own battles is an important one. It’s an important question that brings us to where we are right now. Millions of children grew up with helicopter parents. I know because I’ve taught a few of them over the years. Naturally, the reverse is also true. Many children grow up with absentee parents. That somehow fits more of the parents I’ve worked with.
Discovering that life is not fair is an important life lesson. Discovering that we have to do things that may not make immediate sense is also a life lesson. It’s a lesson that obviously needs to be learned based on what we are experiencing now. I’m fully vaccinated and yet I wear a mask at work. That combination doesn’t make sense to millions around this country.
Millions also don’t get the concept of inoculating yourself against a disease they cannot see. They may not know anyone that’s had it. If they do then they can excuse themselves because that other guy (or girl) is a lot less healthy than they are. Besides, their buddy at work told them about a new drug they can take that’s much easier than the vaccine. Sure, they have to go down to the feed store to pick it up, but that’s not a big deal.
Mr. Chopin above has hit on one of life’s most basic truths. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Our children tend to reflect our values. They are a reflection of the values we raised them with. We are a reflection of our parent’s values. Even when we didn’t get along and cursed them under our breath we still unwittingly became them in many ways.
Yet, there’s a difference. Teachers especially know one thing to be true. We often remember the worst thing a teacher ever did to us and we vow that we will never ever do that to a kid. We may remember the worst thing our parents did. For many this became a shield to ward off life’s most unpleasant experiences.
Losing the big game turned into everyone getting a trophy. Not getting picked for the team became everyone participating at the YMCA and getting equal playing time. Getting stuck at a school that doesn’t fit me became school choice, charter schools, and magnet schools.
Then, there is the vaccine. We have become a victim of our own success. No one knows anyone that has had the measles, mumps, small pox, or polio. They hear stories from the old folks, but it becomes a “back in my day…” kind of thing and gets quickly tossed aside. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that many have determined they don’t need it. Except you hear stories every day about someone you know (or someone that someone you know knows) going to the hospital or dying. If only we had been forced to live through those difficult times. You know we’ll have a good time then.