Posted by: laughs4dads | January 7, 2011

The Competitive Spirit or “Hey, My Kid’s Not Doing That Yet!”

There’s no doubt that our children have been born into a world that is more competitive than ever.  From the moment they exit the womb, they enter a competition for the best play groups, the best pre-schools, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best pre-nuptial agreements, the best homes, the best children and the best cemeteries.

I remember having to reserve a spot in nursery school for Casey in October for the following September. I didn’t apply to colleges that far in advance.

Of course, the purpose of these pre-schools (and pre-pre-schools) is to teach social principles like interaction and co-operation.  To give you an idea of how this works, I have a transcript of Casey (at two years old) telling me about her day:

ME: How was school today?
CASEY: Stories.
ME: The teacher told stories?
CASEY: Yes. 
ME: What else did you do?
CASEY: Slide.
ME: You played on the slide?
CASEY: Yes.
ME: What else?
CASEY: Hamburger fries.
ME: You ate hamburgers and fries?
BARB: She made hamburgers and fries for the other kids.  They have a play kitchen.
CASEY: Casey boo-boo.
ME: You have a boo-boo?  What happened?
BARB: Jimmy bit her.

Now that’s my idea of social interaction.  When the parents picked up the kids from the school each day, the teacher (whom all the parents all hated because she treated them like children) gave them reports about their kids’ various kinds of anti-social behavior.  Benjamin, this teacher would tell Ben’s mother, Rory, knocked over all the toys as soon as he came into the room.  Rory wondered how she should react to this news.  After all, just how disciplined was a two-year old supposed to be?  And why did this teacher have an inflection in her voice that sounded as though it was Rory who had knocked over the toys?

One Sunday afternoon, the school threw a pizza party with the stated purpose of letting all the parents meet each other, although some of us felt it was specifically to torture fathers who wanted to be home watching football games and drinking beer.

Ben’s father, Ed, had a terrific idea.  He thought it would be fun if he showed up and immediately knocked over all the toys.  And Jimmy’s father went over and bit somebody.  And I pretended to make hamburgers.  Our wives talked us out of the plan.

Now, when I was a kid, some of us went to nursery school, where we got to play with blocks and take naps so that we’d be all prepared to excel at block playing and nap taking in kindergarten.

Not any more.  Today’s kindergarten assumes that your child has at least experienced various social environments, if not already accumulated some credits toward a post-graduate degree.  Our society has made these two-and-three-year old schools necessary because, without them, a child could actually find himself behind in kindergarten.

You see, somewhere along the way, our brilliant child psychologists and esteemed educators figured out that the younger a child is, the more they can learn.  A child’s mind, they tell us, is like a sponge.  The theory, I guess, is that the more they soak up at a young age, the more society will be able to squeeze out of them later on. 

It seems to me that Japan is always used as an example for these arguments.  We see documentaries of Japanese children already hard at work in laboratories trying to figure out what they can miniaturize next.  Look how disciplined these children are, we are told.  They work hard in school, they respect their parents and they always seem to beat our kids in the Little League World Series.

So now there are all these special programs intended to give our kids a head start.  Your two-year old can learn foreign languages, get an appreciation of art, or start training for the Olympics.  If she can pass the entrance exams.  And if you happen to have a lot of money.

Well, excuse me, but I staunchly believe that we should not be emulating a society that hasn’t even learned how to cook fish.  I think it’s much more important for a two-year old to learn how to be a two-year old.  The world at large contains quite enough for our little sponges to absorb; it’s completely unnecessary to throw in the subtleties of impressionist art.

In fact, some sociologists have noticed that, while the Japanese are very good at business and manufacturing and other pursuits that require a structured way of thinking, they may, as a whole, be lacking in imagination.  This will be obvious to anybody who compares sumo wrestling to professional wrestling in our country.

Why are the Japanese lacking in imagination?  Because they don’t let their two year olds spend enough time imagining.  Their two year olds spend all their time installing annoying, nagging voices that tell you to fasten your seat belts.

And besides, even if we don’t enroll them in English Literature courses, our kids are already involved in some pretty tough competition.

Only they don’t know it.

Because while they go on their merry way, their parents are frantically comparing their every move to what the kid down the street is doing.

I’ll admit it; I did it all the time.  I’d say to Barbara, “None of the other kids recites the alphabet like Casey, right?”  Or even something as stupid as, “Casey has longer hair than anyone else, right?”  As if the length of Casey’s hair indicated some special prodigious skill on the part of our daughter.

I remember Barb once telling me how impressed Rory was at Casey’s incredibly long attention span that allowed her to engage in the same activity for as long as five minutes.  Well, it was true that Benjamin had, at that age, never been observed in a motionless state, but on the other hand, he seemed to be some sort of a mechanical genius.  By the time he started walking, he could also insert a cassette tape into the stereo, press the “play” button, and turn the tape over at the end of a side.  By the time he was two, I believe Ed had him doing transmission repairs on his car.

So, you see, different children develop in different ways.  It all more or less evens out in the end, and there’s absolutely no reason to despair just because your child doesn’t show any interest in, say, drawing.

But did you know Casey was already dabbling in non-toxic marker at 14 months? 

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