Sunday Express: Grown-Up Time
This article appeared in “S” Magazine – The Sunday Express (UK) 03/13/05
By Christie Mellor
What in the world happened to the grown-ups? It’s as if there was a mass conspiracy among those in the under-twelve set, and the grown-ups were quietly exchanged in the dark of night for docile, compliant, easily-cowed doppelgangers, who would bend to the steely wills of their powerful demon spawn. This is the only explanation as to how an entire generation of parents have let themselves become doormats to their tiny charges. These parental drones are everywhere, carting Amanda to music class, (just a little behind schedule because her tennis lesson ran late), scurrying off to pick up young Robert at football practice, and arriving home exhausted, with barely time to grab even a quick sandwich, much less enjoy a leisurely glass of wine with spouse or friend. What little free time they do have is taken up in “Mommy And Me” groups and online parenting collectives. This makes them feel as if they are relating to other grown-ups, even though they all really just end up talking about their children. Incessantly. To anyone who will listen. They hover about the swing set, supervising every moment of their child’s play because their kids have no idea how to play by themselves. When young Percy hauls off and wallops another child with a bucket, they inexplicably resist reprimanding him, for fear of quashing the disagreeable Percy’s fragile self-esteem. At home, they bargain endlessly with young Clifford over how much time he should get to spend in front of the video game they bought because he had to have it at that very moment. He got really mad when they said no! “What can you do?” They shrug helplessly, chuckling over their boy’s determination and bargaining skills. These whipped and weary parents let themselves be ordered about, happily fetching sodas and treats for their sofa-bound, television-addicted little brats. Their children have never lifted a finger around the house, and are in danger of heading off to college having not acquired the simplest of skills. Misguided dads fret over getting their children in the right schools and the right summer camps. Pregnant mommies put their fetuses on waiting lists for highly academic nursery schools, and then worry that the programs might not be academic enough for their two year-olds. These frazzled parents have given up their right to some old-fashioned grown-up time, and this is not a good thing for the children, who have become increasingly demanding, self-centered, and rather off-putting as people. I was under the impression that when we became grown-ups, we would be leading smart lives replete with chilled cocktails, witty banter and glittering dinner parties. If there were going to be children involved at all, they would be well-behaved, know how to mix a decent highball, and recognize when to make themselves scarce. Instead, I find the world has become an unbearably cuddly, politically-correct place, where mummies and daddies coddle and cater to their children every minute of every day. “But what can you do?” you ask, in that exceptionally irritating whine you’ve perfected over the years. “Little Jemima just loves her Tango lessons,” you simper as you pile Theodore’s entire Scout troupe into the minivan, because you promised you’d have them all over for Arts and Crafts. You drive home to the strains of some grating “Kid’s Music”, because your children insist that the car radio be permanently tuned to their favorite station. “…And if I don’t start Decca on the violin by the age of two, she’ll be behind the curve,” you continue, as you pick up a pile of dirty clothes, stepping over three immobile children who have planted themselves in front of a rather violent computer game. I’m not suggesting you ignore the tots and go shopping for shoes all day. I’m not suggesting you don’t involve yourself in the sometimes messy, but important activities that go along with raising a child, as did one (slightly insane) mother I know, when she hired a former Olympic cyclist from Brazil to teach her child how to ride a bicycle. True! Under the misguided notion that she must have “only the best” for her youngster, she missed that brief but breathtaking moment when her child pushed off and rode a two-wheeler by himself for the first time. “But what can you do?” you bleat, now becoming really annoying. At the risk of sounding obvious: Stop! It’s time to stop making your children the center of your universe. They are a part of the family, they shouldn’t be running the family. Parents, reclaim your lives! It’s high time you got off the hamster wheel. Go mix yourselves a nice cocktail, and put little Muffy and Thaddeus in another room to play by themselves. Preferably for hours on end. Perhaps with a pile of laundry that needs sorting, and a damp mop. Cheers! Bedtime: Parents seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that entire evenings would be at their disposal, if only they would put the children to bed at a reasonable hour. What is reasonable? Well, the earlier they are nestled all snug in their beds, the earlier you get to crack open that book you’ve been saving, or head out to the patio for an evening with the spouse. Children need much more sleep than they’ve been getting, I’ve heard, and nighttime should really be the exclusive domain of grown-ups, as they have a much better idea of what to do with it. Kiddies should get their hide-and-seek, fort building, and pillow fights out of the way and tidied up by say, seven o’clock; while the cocktail shaker is chilling, you can read them a book and tuck them in. They should be sawing logs before the first ice-tray is cracked. Mama’s Little Negotiator: “Just two more biscuits, then we have to leave…all right, three. But that’s my limit!” How many times have we heard that irritating refrain? There will be no limit, until the little demon has filled his yawning void. Don’t be one of those parents who constantly makes “deals” with their children. This is an obvious face-saving device to mask the fact that your child constantly gets his own way. At least be honest when you shrug and smile and say that your little Max is such a “Good Negotiator!” How about shrugging and smiling and saying, “Isn’t he unpleasant for such a small person? Wow, I am really doing my part to send him on the fast bus to Brat City! I let him get away with murder, the little monster!” And then we’ll laugh, and have another drink. At least we don’t all have to pretend anymore. Are We There Yet? You’ve packed the Gameboys, you’ve gathered the Walkmans, you have a set of earphones for each child along with thirty-five CD’s and a portable DVD screen. You’re ready to embark upon what you think will be a car trip from hell. But hitting the road with kids doesn’t have to be a chore, nor do you need to outfit them with a dizzying array of boredom-alleviating electronics. A healthy dose of boredom is good for children, it gets them thinking, which might actually benefit them. Staring at a screen for five hours may make for a quieter trip, but where’s the fun in that? The endless word games, loud, repetitive songs and counting of cows are part of what make any road trip memorable. Embrace the irritation! Savor the incessant refrains of “Are we there yet?” When you finally do arrive, you’ll all be ready for a good vacation. Bon Voyage! Dining Out: I was eating out with a friend when her child stood on his chair and yodled to the assembled diners, “This Food Stinks.” His mother, obviously used to dining with an exaggerated level of noise and activity, nonetheless seemed aware that her son was being perhaps a bit more disruptive than usual. “Just ignore him, and he’ll stop,” she assured me, knowingly. One can attempt to ignore a small foghorn-voiced redhead as one may attempt to ignore a school of giant walking fish on the Florida interstate. Ignoring them doesn’t make them stop, although walking fish are generally quieter than most four year-olds. It is not my job to ignore your obnoxious child, it is your job to teach your child not to behave obnoxiously in public. Give your offspring the gift of good manners, or be condemned to dine forever in noisy “Child-Friendly” eateries. Trust me, you don’t want that. Parties: Perhaps you shouldn’t keep your little sweetums up quite so late past his bedtime to attend your grown-up party. Your friends did not come over to make merry with your five year-old, as sophisticated as he or she may be. They might be looking forward to some grownup conversation, and may not feel as if they can speak with total abandon in front of a precocious tot. They’d probably prefer not to hear young Chloe play the clarinet, nor would it be a delight to have darling Bradley climbing on their laps so that he can snatch the canapés off their plates and double dip the guacamole. We all differ in what we might think of as “cute,” but an adult party is neither the time nor place to display your progeny’s various talents. Persephone’s a little doll, and so is Master Ned. Now don’t they have someplace to go? Might I suggest, to bed?