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I live in the NYC metro area and so exist in a bubble of neurotic, striving parents. In many respects, they can’t be blamed; it’s competitive here. Enrichment and achievement are the focus, one following naturally after the other from conception until launch. The schools here are a constant discussion, whether you’re biting your nails dealing with the NYC public schools or you’re settling in the suburbs and weighing one district against another. It’s a way of life here and whether you actively participate or actively avoid it, you play a role in it.

We want our children to be healthy and content. We want to give them every opportunity. We want to make sure they live up to their potential in ways that are right for them. I think we can all agree on that, no matter where we live.

But I feel an additional competitiveness in the air here. Maybe it starts when we hear about that one baby in the mom group who said his first word at 6.5 months. Or when you realize that all the other parents put their kids on waiting lists for The Good Preschool before they were born. Or how about those kids who are publishing books or giving TED talks or developing tests for cancers in high school (which for the record I think is awesome and go you, kids). And we go, holy shit that’s a possibility? That’s in the mix? We hear about it all the time yet most kids are average because that’s what average means (and I think those kids are awesome too, go you).

Do the competitive, striving parents ever think about an end goal when they start on this path, even secretly? Do they just want to open doors and give their kids an edge as they approach the great unknown?* I don’t think we live in the time of parents striving for doctors or lawyers anymore, nor do I think we still live in the do-what-makes-you-happy time either; it is evolving in some way that maybe we can’t see yet. Maybe the right word for it is “cultivation.” Cultivation of minds.

I want the child I have, not any other one, and so do you. But can we do an exercise? Can we compartmentalize and disassociate for a moment?

Do you want an extraordinary kid? Is that (one of) the definition(s) of success in this culture? Does it seem like people are striving for that more these days or does it just seem that way because I’ve got a dog in the fight now? I’m inclined to go with the latter, but what do you think?

You can say. It’s ok. It’s just curiosity. I know you love your child and you only want him or her to be happy and kind. But if that’s all you want, why did you buy flashcards for your five-month-old is all I’m wondering.

*I actually had to look that phrase up because I wasn’t sure if it meant space or death or neither. The first Wiki article on it referred to Dungeons & Dragons so I felt comfortable with it.

Art credit: Todd Baxter

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