Barry has a heart-breaking post about his son’s difficulties fitting in at school and the role that his strict (compared to other children, anyway) household plays in that. It is, unfortunately, a very familiar story. It’s also likely to be the source of an inevitable conflict between Clancy and I should we have children down the line.

Clancy is one of three super-children. Clancy is a doctor, her middle sister is a lawyer (married to a doctor, no-less), and the youngest just got out of college with 4.0 GPA honors degree from the University of Carolina. Only the youngest doesn’t have an upper-level degree and she’s only 23 and I’m sure will get one someday. Her parents, a college professor and a CPA, expected no less.

I come from a slightly less ambitious family. My brothers and I are all middle-professionals just as Dad was. The oldest works with databases, the middle is an engineer like Dad, and I am a general IT person. We all graduated from college (middle bro has a master’s). This was expected of us as well.

I am disinclined to criticize my parents because all things considered they did a phenomenal job. Our successes are theirs and our failures are our own. But if I am inclined to do anything differently than they did, it’s to push them a little harder. I’m not sure if there’s any reason my family couldn’t have been as successful as Clancy’s. Not successful in the monetary sense, but in the sense of living up to our full potential. At least two of us Truman boys haven’t. Instead of living up to our full potential, my oldest brother and I have instead lived up to our parents expectations of us. Had those expectations been set higher, we would have achieved more. Had they lower expectations, we probably would have achieved less. Even successful middle brother got where he is by following in Dad’s footsteps. No more, no less.

While there are exceptions to every rule, this is the case more often than not.

I won’t speak for my brothers any further, but I will say that I was a problem child waiting to happen. I like to push all the wrong things. I have a scientist’s curiosity to find out “what would happen if?” Add a peculiar personality and more difficulty reading than a lot of people my age. Drugs, alcohol, and quitting school were all waiting for me, but by the grace of good parenting.

My parents wouldn’t get me a Nintendo because my grades were bad. I couldn’t watch Rated R movies. We didn’t have cable except in the main room and even then not until I was in the fifth grade. Dad sat with me every night after dinner to walk me through the homework that was giving me great difficulty. Small disciplinary infractions were treated sternly and so they never became larger ones.

But I look back at how hard I didn’t try in school and how well I did (better than “smart” people that tried a lot harder). Maybe I could have been a lawyer or a doctor instead of in the middle of a dead-end career that stopped interesting me long ago. Don’t get me wrong, I like my life, but I would want better for my children. Isn’t that what every parent (or in this case would-be parent) wants?

Which brings me back to Clancy’s family and what it took to get them where they got.

The Himmelreich family wasn’t allowed to watch television to the extent that most families, including the Trumans, were. School was their job, as their father used to say. Clancy is an avid reader, but most likely couldn’t tell the Star Trek from Space Ghost. Also, intense focus on academia necessarily diverts energy away from socializing and acculturating yourself with your social environment. There are some people who can do it all (including Clancy’s youngest sister), but it requires a special gift that very few people have.

Clancy doesn’t have it. Her childhood was miserable. To this day I want to go back and kick some junior high butt because those kids were so cruel.

Now Clancy is an odd duck like myself. Even if she had been availed of the newest games of the day and popular television shows, while she might not have her current animosity towards it, she would never have completely bought in to pop culture.

While I think there’s a lot that Clancy would do differently than the way that she was raised, those are the values (work hard, play productively) she was raised with and she’s taken to them. I definitely get the sense that she would want similar guidelines in any family that she’s raising. It’s certainly hard to argue with the results.

But I don’t want any children we have to go through what she went through. While I don’t want them to be cheerleader popular, I don’t want them to be unpopular either. I don’t want them to go through what Clancy went through, what I went through, and what Barry’s son is going through.

And yet what choice do parents have? Do they let the kids buy in to the superficial, materialistic culture that is leaving a lot of kids emotionally unequipped for the “real world?” Do we let them slide on grades so that they can spend more time on frivolous activities just so that they can conform to the backwards priorities of youth?

Barry’s right, what the other parents let their kids do has a direct bearing on those households that won’t buy in to that. So do you give in? Do you fight it, letting your child take the brunt of the damage?

It’s really a no-win situation.

I may not be as concerned about violent movies as Barry is, but the older I get the more puritanical and less of a libertine I seem to be becoming. I’ve seen what permissive parents, overly accomodating teachers, sexual promiscuity, drugs (including alcohol first and foremost), and sexual promiscuity have done to a lot of my friends. I consider myself lucky to have (mostly) moved beyond that. I admire the wall that Clancy has managed to built between herself and all of that. I’d want the same for my children.

But at what cost? And to whom?

You give in a little and it doesn’t do much good. My classmates didn’t care that I finally got to see Nightmare on Elm Street 13. They just noted that I’d missed the first twelve. They didn’t care that I managed to get ahold of one killer trendy outfit, they just noted that the rest of the time I wore slacks and polo shirts. They didn’t care that I finally started wearing jeans because their opinions had been formed by my stubborn insistence of wearing slacks until I was thirteen.

It doesn’t even seem like compromise is possible. You have to buy in. And by that point, instead of being what your (older and theoretically wiser) parents tell you to be, you’re what your young and stupid friends tell you to be.

But you do have to acclimate yourself to your surroundings. No matter how much sense it might make to wear an African robe in the desert heat, you wear pants because you’re expected to. It keeps society going. No matter how smart a supergenious kid is, it does him no good if s/he isn’t understood by those around him/her and doesn’t understand the world around him/her.

And somewhere in the midst of all this is an answer that eludes me.

Category: Coffeehouse

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5 Responses to Good Boys & Girls

  1. Barry says:

    What a great post 🙂 Thanks for the followup to mine.

    My main problem with violent movies is I don’t want it to scare them. I remember taking my son to see The Phantom Menace when he was 3 – I thought, “no big deal”…but he freaked during the ending lightsaber duel between Qui-Gonn, Obi Wan and Darth Maul. You just never know. My little girl is scared of Sleestaks on Land of the Lost. I’d hate for them to see something that just is so traumatizing it gives them nightmares or something.

    I was hesitant to let him see the T-Rex-eating-the-lawyer scene in Jurassic Park, or the big battle scenes in Lord of the Rings – though I’ve relented on both now that he’s nine. I’m still torn on Spiderman II’s Doc-Ock-tears-apart-the-operating-room scene (it was pretty darn violent), and and wary of the violence in the new Star Wars movie.

    I don’t think like some people that the films are “glorifying” violence, but I do believe too much exposure too soon in a kids life can desensitize them to violence all around them. Same with bad language, in some ways.

    However, there may be an opposite reaction to sex (or suggestive situations) in movies, though. I’ll have to think that one through…

  2. trumwill says:

    [Trackback] My Life As The Ogre King

    As with most kids, I think, the junior high years for me were the worst of my life. A combination of deflated expectations, puberty, waist-bloat, and… well… everything else that comes with being in junior high. My junior high experience cast a pretty long shadow and though I don’t think about it much now, it influenced the things that influenced the things that influenced the things that influence who I am today.

    Things had started to improve by my 8th grade year (Delosa schools have middle school from 6-8 and high school from 9-12) through, among other things, bribery. And in high school I discovered an online bulletin board system (BBS) that would change my life. It’s interesting to note that only once I started getting better did I realize how bad things had previously been.

  3. dizzy says:

    Why do you assume that “buying into the popular culture…” means stupidity? There’s really not anything particularly “smarter” about, say, Dune. Or science fiction. It’s just a different enthusiasm.

  4. trumwill says:

    You’re right, there’s nothing “smarter” about science fiction than pop culture, just as there is nothing about pop culture that means someone is more well socially developed. There are corrolations, but that’s mostly self-selection. My sister-in-law is extremely intelligent and very much a pop culture person. I’m not sure where I gave the impression that popular culture equals stupidity.

    Now, plain ole American culture, on the other hand, is somewhat different. There is an anti-intellectual streak in this country. The problems with being “too smart” are legion. They may be outweighed by the advantages, though, and that’s partially what this post is meant to discuss.

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