Friday, April 27, 2012

Crap we tell our kids

Now that I have a baby girl in the family, I’m once again in the unpleasant position of having to decide between easy lies or hard truths. We tell our kids a lot of bullshit.
Some of it is clearly fantastic. No rational, discerning person believes it for long. This includes such mystical creatures as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. All of those holiday-inspired Monster Manual rejects are supposed to be benevolent, but they have seriously creepy and disturbing aspects to them. Who comes up with this stuff? A fluttering pixie that comes into your room at night and, while you sleep, leans over you, rummages under your pillow, and leaves you a dollar in exchange for a discarded piece of your anatomy? Through the voodoo-style school of sympathetic magic, that little fairy now OWNS you. You’re her puppet. At the very best, it’s a creature that pays good money for surgical waste, but instead of making this perverted business arrangement to your face, it happens on the sly while you’re helpless. Yuck.
Then there’s Mr. Claus. He spies on every child in the world and if you’re “good” you get rewarded. If you’re “bad” you get coal. Or nothing. Who set him up as the ultimate moral judge? Is there an oversight committee of some kind, or does this grinning madman make all those decisions on his own? That’s a lot of power for one man, even a magical cherubic fat man. I’ve got to say, the best gift this guy could hand out would be the secret of faster-than-light travel, since he manages to visit every home in the world in just one night. Nor does he just fly by and drop gifts, bomber-style, but he dallies in order to drink milk and eat cookies. Pretty impressive. Of course, no one seems bothered by the sweat-shop he runs up there on the North Pole. Do his elves have a union? Are they actually a race of diminutive workers, or is he using child labour? No one’s ever inspected the working conditions up there, which is no doubt why he’s operating his factory in the frozen wasteland in what amounts to international waters.
Compared to this duo, the odd chocolate-egg-delivering Easter Bunny seems positively normal. Of course, made-up mascots are the least damaging things we lie to our kids about.
What about the old “you can be whatever you want to be” falsehood? I understand the motive behind it. We don’t want to crush the dreams of our kids before adulthood and the world has a chance to do it. Nevertheless, it’s a lie, and a cruel one. Not everyone has the capacity to do everything. They don’t send very many asthmatic dudes into space, and the guy I sat beside in school who couldn’t comprehend arithmetic isn’t likely to head up the Math Department at MIT. Yes, there are exceptions all around us. Stories meant to inspire where, against all odds, some guy named Rudy ends up kicking ass at something everyone thought he could never do. It’s wonderful when it happens, but the reason it’s inspiring is because it doesn’t happen every day! For every kid that works like mad and gets into the NHL, there are a thousand that work just as hard and end up playing in the Pickerel Valley Senior Hockey League.
It’s a cop-out to claim that these people can still do whatever they want. Yes, I can be a writer whether anyone pays me or not, and Joe Blow can still play basketball with his buddies—he doesn’t have to do it in the NBA. That isn’t the dream, though. The dream is to make a living doing what you love, not to do it on the side in your spare time. Pretending otherwise is fooling yourself.
Right about now we have a whole generation of kids that have grown up in the back-patting, no-one-fails-everyone’s-a-winner mentality our society has created. They are in their 20’s, and they are finding out that their parents have lied to them. You can’t be anything you want to be. You don’t always win. Life isn’t fair. These poor saps don’t have the emotional tools to deal with it.
So do I do the brave thing and tell Daughter these ugly truths? Or do I let her live in the fairy world of Easter Bunnies and unfettered dreaming?
I wish I had access to Santa Claus—apparently he’s got all the answers to life’s moral issues.

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