When did kids start running the world?
I’m not complaining about 30-year-old tech heads, I’m talking about real kids. You know, those people who appear unnaturally short with odd proportions, wipe their noses on their shirtsleeves and are unnaturally attracted to the orange-coloured foodstuffs such as Kraft Dinner and Goldfish crackers. Them.
There was a time when they had their world and we had ours. They had their interests and we had ours. For the most part, we thought each other’s entertainments were excruciatingly boring, parents vowing to keep this opinion to themselves. This rule was abandoned once kids became aware of film and TV and acquired the need to recite plots in excruciating detail. (Sadly, some never out grew this tedious habit and became known as the Scourges of the Water Cooler.)
Before the advent of cute names for demographic groups, parenting was just about raising kids, not a competitive sport. Then some cosmic shift occurred and North America became a child-centred culture. Personally, I blame the Yuppies. The ’80s hit and suddenly folks with biological clocks in overdrive were having kids at an age when their parents had eagerly anticipated becoming empty nesters. Over night, 38 became a reasonable age to become first-time parents.
Problem was, a pair of steady, grown-up mid-career paycheques proved hard to give up. So the parents shuffled the kid(s) off to daycare or hired a nanny; both sensible and practical solutions to carrying a kid in a briefcase. Leaving one’s progeny in a stimulating environment or with a singularly-focused, doting adult should have given parents a feeling of increased security, unfortunately, it seems to do the opposite.
Not being central in the kid’s day-to-day experience created guilt that manifested in parents committing to meet every need their child could express. It also created a backlash of the sanity-saving device known as babysitters. Soon kids were everywhere. I can’t be sure, but I think I saw one dancing on a speaker at Luv-A-Fair to Depeche Mode in ’85.
Twenty-five years after the great Child-Centred Revolution, suggesting that an event is adults-only still throws many people into conniptions. I am reasonably sure those same people would be more alarmed if I told their kids’ a dirty joke, asked them if they minded mixing up a pitcher of martinis and asking whoever is smoking up in the bathroom to come and share.
If babysitters are called into action, the performance expectation often borders on the demented. What 14- or 15-year-old girl or boy has the combined skills of Mary Poppins, a Waldorf instructor and a paramedic? Why should having some neighbourhood teen who has suspended some of his or her usual surliness to come and hang out with the kids so you can see a movie have to be a learning experience? If they really believed in learning experiences, these same parents would be leaving said kid(s) with a sitter so they could see Al Gore’s take on global warming and not Will Ferrell’s on the life of a fictitious NASCAR star.
When Ayelet Waldman's essay "Motherlove" was published in Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves her bravery was lauded in places including her online alma mater, Salon . When The New York Times reprinted it all hell broke lose. The reason? Waldman stated that while she loved her children, she loved her husband more and this was healthy. The author of The Mommy Track Mysteries, spouse of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, had dared express a position that 40 years ago wouldn’t have warranted expression. In 1966 Waldman’s essay would have been met, "Duh."
She went on to opine that having not been made the centre of the universe in their own families, it stood to reason that this expectation would not be made outside. The level of vitriol this idea generated was more in line with what would have been expected had Waldman advocated infanticide as an affordable alternative to daycare. By proclaiming that she saw her children as "satellite, beloved but tangential" to her relationship with her spouse she had betrayed a tenet of modern parenthood.
As a kid, I loved those moments where I saw my parents as something other than Mom and Dad. I remember the smells of perfume, aftershave, 2 nd Debut foundation and Gillette shaving foam, as they hurried to get ready before the babysitter arrived. It never occurred to me that my brother and I would be accompanying them on their mysterious evenings out. The world of the adult was something to aspire to… a privilege earned in exchange for experience.
I like to think as my parents watched us dig holes in the lot adjacent to our house that our lives seemed just as mysterious. It was, and it was ours.