Disclaimer – As you read this, your anger toward me will rise, your pulse will race and you will want to grab me by the throat and set me straight. However, before you show up at my door shaking your fist in my face, let me address the questions I invariably hear whenever I write about children:
- I don’t have any children
- I don’t hate children
- I don’t think all parents are insufferable egotists (just a great many)
- I completed all levels of school including a four-year college
- Children can play on my lawn – with supervision. Soccer cleats are banned (unless I want the lawn aerated).
- Children actually do like me
- I have a heart and a soul
It’s June. Historically, June is the month devoted to “Dads and Grads.” Unfortunately, the patriarch of the family, the man we know as Dad, the man who works hard to give his children a better life, is typically shoved aside this month in favor of the grads. I’m not talking about the hardworking high school seniors who have completed their lower education, or even the successful college graduates who will venture out into the world. No! It’s the four year old who “graduates” from pre-school. It’s the kindergartener heading into first grade. It’s the fifth grader who “graduates” from elementary school. It’s the eighth grader who “graduates” from middle school. It’s these “graduates” who are celebrated everywhere from yard signs to theater marquees, Facebook and group texts.
When, in the world of academia, did parents and schools start celebrating the simple act of completing one grade and moving on to the next? Pre-school graduation? Are you kidding me? Most of these kids are still crapping in their pants! I didn’t even go to pre-school. Pre-school for me was my mother yelling at me to stop picking my nose, belching out loud and lifting up my shirt. Every once in a while she tossed in a Dr. Seuss book. The only preparation I had for kindergarten was a new pair of shoes and a stern warning to “watch your mouth and behave.” That was it. On the first day of kindergarten my brother, who was entering third grade, walked me to school, shoved me in the door and left. Kindergarten for me was survival of the fittest. By today’s standards, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to enter kindergarten without my pre-school diploma or ribbons I was awarded for not crapping in my pants. Where was my mother you ask? She was home thanking the good Lord that her last kid was out the door and she could concentrate on regaining her sanity. The last place my mom wanted to be during the school year was in my classroom.
Moms and dads today are in the classroom more than the teachers. I hear this all the time from my friends. “Today, I’m going to Joey’s class to be The Mystery Reader.” What the hell is a “mystery reader?” How mysterious can some mom in LuLu Lemon workout pants and a flip flops be? You want a mystery reader? Have some large man hide in the closet and read Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” through an auto-tune microphone. I want to hear some kid cry and say, “What the fuck is going on here? I’m terrified.” Now, that’s a mystery reader! Then there are the snacks. How many times are my friends running around in the morning to get snacks for their kid’s class? And they can’t just pick up a package of Oreo’s. Oh no! There will be some kid who lives within three miles of the school who has some allergy to a) chocolate b) nuts c) gluten d) sugar e) fun. I never got a snack in school. I had to hope that the bowl of Cap’n Crunch I had for breakfast got me through to lunch. Now, can someone explain to me why these pampered kids who don’t walk to school, need more snacks during the day than a Weight Watchers dropout? And, why on any given day are there at least three parents standing around the room ready with tissues, water bottles and hand sanitizer? My mother only came to school maybe once a year to chaperone our field trips to the zoo or the museum. As for my dad, I can’t even imagine him leaving work to come to school. My father’s interest in my school year consisted of asking me every once in a while what grade I was in and an occasional threat to kill me if he ever got a call about me being in trouble. That’s all he and I ever needed to discuss. At the end of the year my parents were spared having to sit in some stifling gym for three hours watching fifth graders congratulate themselves and sing the school song while they “graduate.” When the school year ended my parents were only interested in two things: Did I pass, and did I bring home all of my sweaters and winter hats from the cloakroom.
As for the eighth grade graduation from middle school – please see all of the reasons above. The only exception here is that parents aren’t only spending endless hours in the classroom; they are also spending endless hours of their precious off time on soccer fields. We didn’t play organized soccer – or soccer of any kind – when I was growing up. I have recently learned that if your child wants to play organized soccer they have to play something called “travel soccer.” I have decided to look into this further because I can feel another tangent boiling up inside of me. I was not athletic and so I didn’t play any sports after school. The only organized after school activity my friends and I had was meeting in the woods to share cigarettes and talk about boys.
Despite spending my after school time in hedonistic adolescent pursuits, I still managed to make it through high school and college. If today’s parents have lofty and perhaps unrealistic goals for their children, my father was much more realistic. He was just happy I made it through school without getting arrested or pregnant. I didn’t have a graduation party. I didn’t go on some fancy senior trip. I wasn’t showered with gifts and money from friends and relatives. My father got me a new car that I had to make monthly payments on. I got a job. I went to school at night. I like to think that I applied everything I had learned and done on my own into establishing my independence. Of course, there was the occasional cry to my father when I needed a new television set or tires for my car. I wasn’t completely ignorant of how to manipulate a parent. I also don’t have a box of meaningless ribbons and I only have two diplomas: one for high school and one for college. While I was growing up my parents didn’t heap undue praise on me. The only time I heard the phrase “good job” was when my father said, “Learn how to type so you can get a good job.” In fact, I once told my dad that my ballet teacher told me I had real talent and he responded with these words of encouragement, “That’s because you’re paying her.” Needless to say, I never made it to the American Ballet Theatre.
I just have one last thing to say to all of the parents out there who think their children need to be coddled, glorified, praised and pampered. This child that you spent so much time on will most likely be living with you for the rest of your life. According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, for the first time in more than 130 years, Americans ages 18-34 are more likely to live with their parents than in any other living situation. So, the next time you’re sitting in the rain with a cold drizzle dripping down your back watching your kid kicking around that soccer ball, think about adding an extra bathroom in the basement; you’ll need it. And let’s make June a month for celebrating the grads who really deserve it and the dads who helped get them there.