Tag Archives: Willy Wonka

Careful The Things You Do*

Hauling nutritionally balanced snacks to Little Leaguers (who engage in actual exercise for about 10 minutes.)  Creating elaborately themed birthday parties for children who would be happy with a whoopee cushion and a pizza.  Dressing little girls as miniature Mae Wests.  What do these, and many more slightly wacky things, have in common?

When asked, the majority of adults will explain (variations of the above) behavior with the following: “There’s such pressure.”  Such pressure.  From their child?  Visions of a pigtailed girl a la The Bad Seed dance in my head.  There she is in the middle of GapKids/Gymboree/Children’s Place, her $200 doll held aloft prepared to swing; “Buy me the fur shrug or the latte gets it.”  I don’t think so.  If so, someone call Willy Wonka and have him rustle up some oompa loompas.  I think what these parents in fact mean is that there is perceived peer pressure.  That’s right; peer pressure.  That plausible excuse for the pack of cigarettes your parents found in their car, the explanation for shoplifting that 45 (a small disc when placed on a turntable emits prerecorded sound,) and a plausible excuse for kissing that boy in the basement.  But peer pressure in adults?  How does that work?  How does one even keep a straight face?  I suspect that it is not peer pressure so much as it is herd mentality.  Semantics perhaps, but defined as “group think” it makes just a bit more sense.

Very few of us, no matter how many times we’ve done it, feel like professional parents.  Every child, every developmental stage, in fact every day presents new challenges.  Yes, there are some whose very nature is laid back.  They feel confident that their child is well fed, healthy, happy, and curious.  They don’t grasp at enrichment programs as if they were life preservers or buy every latest geegaw and gizmo.  Their confidence might be innate or may be a reflection of their diverse portfolio.  Perhaps all their identity eggs are not in the parenthood basket.  They may have a paid job or not.  They may be married or not.  The diversification is more internal than that.

But these are not the parents hiring aerialists and face painters for a bris.  They are not the ones baking for the school/church/scouts/karate class/soccer club every week.  The parents staying up to create bespoke goody bags for their 6 year old’s birthday party are hearing different voices in their head.  They want desperately to get it right and like the creature in the strange land (that all parents really are) they take every cue and piece of advice to heart.  A cycle is created of external reinforcement.  Where the trouble may lie (if you consider hovering parenting and spoiled children, trouble) is a sense of unease and disquietness.  Look around.  How much of the media noise is about “stressed moms” “mommy wars” or far worse “the hidden drinking life of moms.”  How long do you think it will be before we have a psychological condition known as “stressed mother?”

Feeling exhausted and strained is nothing new.  Mother’s little helper, anyone?  But the angst which comes from losing one’s internal compass is.  What would happen if we tried something new, yet very old for 30 days?  For 30 days, let’s not visit any parenting websites, chat rooms or magazines.  Let’s only talk to our friends and acquaintances about what’s going on in our own lives, not our child’s.  Let’s plan weekly dates with our partners (and hire babysitters.)  If something comes up in those 30 days which really warrants guidance, call a parent, or aunt, or uncle or grandparent.  Look to the elders, the survivors if you will, for guidance, reinforcement and comfort.  For 30 days, do not look to the others floundering in the sea of parenthood for help.

Let me know how it goes.

*Children Will Listen – Into The Woods, Stephen Sondheim (1986)


Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Childhood


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This is a preemptive strike against the annual Halloweenphobia that is about to rear its ugly (non-masked) head. While the retail chains have been stockpiling orange and black merchandise the populace rumblings have begun to stir. It seems that every year yet a new way to safeguard children from self-directed Halloween fun is unearthed. First, trick-or-treating became chaperoned, then there were the full blown bans on trick-or-treating, with tragically depressing “parties” in their place, then costumes at school were banned (I ask you, how is a person supposed to trick-or-treat on their way home from school?!,) recently there was no trick-or-treating on Sundays (is that a Lent thing?) and my all-time, number 10 on the insanity Richter scale: Halloween pedophile alerts. I’m no criminologist, but I’m just gonna throw this out there: really?! Do people think the “strangers with candy” thing is Halloween on steroids?  ( A) children trick-or-treat with friends, not alone B) pedophiles prey on the vulnerable and the heinous crime involves befriending C) stop watching so much SVU.

What is so ridiculously ironic about the Halloween bogeyman paranoia (on a holiday that celebrates the bogeyman) is that the same adults who are wrapping their sainted cherubs in bubble wrap are dressing like working girls (or like children if they’re men) and drinking in excess. But I digress.

Halloween is a wonderful adventure and learning opportunity for children. Weeks are spent creating costumes and organizing trick-or-treating gangs and routes. Navigational skills are utilized while mapping out the greatest candy-per-footstep ratio. Learning to speak to adults (who, gasp, are strangers) is intimidating but a necessary skill. There’s nothing quite as awkward as that first “Trick-or Treat” of the evening. For all of you now shaking your head with smugness and muttering; “she just doesn’t get it.” I assure you I do. Learning to be confident and assertive with adult (strangers) is the BEST way to safeguard a child from victimization, be it peer-to-peer bullying or the unthinkable.

As far as candy tampering (rare as it is) no candy is eaten until the little goblins arrive home. Loose candy, apples and baked goods must be tossed, if the giver is not a family friend. We live in a world of terrifyingly real foodborne illness, manufacturer’s tainting, and flawed engineering of safety products. We don’t spend our lives in fear of these hazards, or in fear of asteroids for that matter. I don’t think we need to create some Willy Wonka’s evil twin fantasy and destroy a wonderful beneficial holiday designed for children.

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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Childhood, Cultural Critique


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