I was in Pacific Palisades earlier this week, a posh, uptight suburb of Los Angeles, when I had a realization; I don’t like white people. And by “white” I mean “middle class” because even the black people here are white. Asians – white. Hispanic people – mostly nannies, so not middle class, therefore I do not automatically hate them, and by extension myself for belonging to them. Apparently those on the Westside of Los Angeles are unable to relate, function or parent without an overwhelming sense of guilt. I saw babies and children that day with so much expensive “equipment” it required its own trailer. Strollers, scooters and swaddle cloths so fancy, I would happily have used them to transport, entertain and wipe myself. I saw that these parents had been guilted (or gilted) into believing that without these essential props, they would be condemning their children to a future life of felonies, facial tattoos and tax evasion.
Like most white middle class children, somehow mine have absorbed a strange mix of entitlement and soul guilt. I discovered this morning that though he has grasped the basics of astro-physics, my eight-year old son had not learned to tie his shoes, because his father had been enabling him every morning of his young life by doing them for him! Perhaps this is why his esteem is low – he has never had the satisfaction of achieving his own victories. Our other son can’t so much as make a pass in a youth basketball game without us (his over-excited guardians) screaming triumphantly from the benches, before he has a chance to know what he feels about it. Maybe those discouraging, asshole parents of old were onto something with the more “pull yourself up by your boot straps” attitude. (Or should that be “pull yourself up by your shoelaces?”) Survival of the fittest is practically the new American motto so it may not be a bad idea to start discouraging them as children, weed out the weak ones early.
I taught my older son to tie his shoes the easy way, by making two loops and tying them together, turned out I was as guilty of tying them for him too because we HAVE TO GET TO SCHOOL CAN YOU MOVE SLIGHTLY FASTER THAN AN UNDERWATER SNAIL. And he seemed empowered by it… Except when the children’s’ father pointed out that I was YELLING at him the whole time, even though it was not a school morning and he was simply going to his winter break program. In my mind, the yelling was fine, because as a tactic to get children’s attention after they’ve just been indulged for a few days with their father (aka Drunk Uncle) one figures out an important fact: yelling works. If it didn’t, parents around the globe wouldn’t do it so much.
Don’t get me wrong, their dad is a fantastic father, he just goes a little overboard sometimes. Like when he insisted on having them camp in the rain the other night. That’s right, two hours after I posted the last entry, it started pelting rain, and daddy had to get up several times during the night and stumble out into the rainy dark to fix the tent, once water sunk the roof down inches from my younger son’s head. All because he didn’t want to disappoint them, or break his word or “give up.” Consequently thirty other parents were able to tell their children a firm polite “No, we will not be camping tonight because of the rain,” but our children were deemed too fragile for such disappointments. Never mind, I’m glad he did it. There will be plenty of time for bad news…
For some reason (maybe guilt about everything that has been handed to them) our kids are often hard on themselves, and as someone who has struggled with my own critical inner voice, this is hard to watch. David (8) will often say, “I’m so stupid!” when he makes a mistake. To which I reply, “I wish you were stupid, it would make raising you so much easier.”
Once Samson (7) declared in a dramatic show of guilt over hitting his brother, “I don’t deserve anything I wish I lived in Africa. I should be in the desert without even a blanket or a pillow or anything.”
I took a breath and answered, “Surely at least a small contour pillow…”
Just then would have been the perfect time to throw some religious guilt at him, maybe a little Christ analogy or a nice Allah parable, but instead we just talked about forgiving himself and I let it be.
Maybe I can forgive my Palisades brethren, they are just trying to do their best as parents after all. By the look of those cashmere twin-setted, pearl-clutching moms nobody in the entire suburb is having sex, which makes them just a tad tightly wound up, yet their intentions are probably good. Keep them safe, protected and loved and hopefully the rest will fall into place (once they get through their Ivy League educations.) I’m not against entitlement when it comes with a healthy dose of neurosis and the good news is that with these parents it invariably will. We all love our children and are just doing our best, with or without the resources to make it a little easier, or at least look fancier in softer, eye-catching eco-fabrics.
And I am in the unique and lucky position to be able to say to my precious angels, “Fuck off and go to your winter camp so mommy can write about how much she loves you.”