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Five things I don’t want my kids to be

May 18, 2010

Kids are like unopened presents: You can sit there all day, wondering what’s inside, what it will turn out to be, and before you open it, the possibilities stretch out before you. Looking at your kids–especially when they’re babies, and their every annoying habit can easily be extrapolated into a winning personality trait–it’s easy to see what they might be, which is usually just another way of seeing them as what you want them to be.

But what about the things you don’t want them to be? Call it pessimism, but I think it’s just as important to wile away the hours worrying about the things you so desperately hope they avoid. Kids are more or less born with their aptitudes, and despite the modern parent’s belief that you can build a certain kind of child with flash cards, classical music and gentle guidance, all you can really do is try to help them find their strengths. And it goes both ways: Kids are also born with their weaknesses, vulnerabilities and blind spots, which, when you throw in the complexities of the world, can lead them to bad places. Which brings me to my no-particular-order list of things I hope my kids never, ever, ever, if they live to be a million, become (I’m leaving out the obvious things, like serial killers, bodybuilders or motivational speakers). Please, sweet Allah, never let my kids become:

Really, really smart. Maybe it’s just because I live in an education-obsessed area of the country, but it seems to me that intelligence is the one thing most modern parents don’t just want for their kids, but assume they all have in abundance, no matter what drooling imbeciles they clearly are. I mean, most of these kids probably have average intelligence–that’s why they call it average–and just because you happen to be seeing them at the time in their development when even the dimmest bulbs are absorbing things at an astonishing rate doesn’t change that. In any event, I’ve known my share of truly smart people, and my observation is that exceptional intelligence makes you painfully aware of many of the awful things in the world, unable to deal with those of normal intelligence, and, well, just plain weird. Being really, really smart, in other words, more or less guarantees misery.

Really, really good-looking. With half my DNA, my kids aren’t in much danger of this, but this might be even worse than being super-smart. At least if you’re smart you stand a chance of contributing something meaningful to the world. But if you’re good-looking, what are you bringing to the table? Being attractive is essentially value-less. All that happens is that everyone is nice to you. You think it’s because you’re awesome, and you wind up having no motivation to develop any actual, substantive qualities that really mean anything to anyone, including yourself. Then your looks go, and you die. No thanks.

Suicide bombers, Libertarians, or vegans. I don’t want to raise any extremists. If I do, I’ll know I failed. Extremists are unable to embrace life’s richness. They live in fear. They’re boring at parties and never understand anyone who can’t match their one, single passion. I mean, kale’s great, but steak is delicious. And butter? I mean, BUTTER.

Overly concerned with what I want. Let’s be clear on a parent’s job: You give them everything, and then they leave you behind, a dried-out husk of your former self, drained of all love, youth, vitality, money and energy. Most of the people I know who wind up living near their parents are jittery, self-loathing failures whose parents have spent a lifetime saddling them with guilt over choosing their own paths. It’ll be sad dying alone and forgotten, but at least I’ll know I did the whole thing right.

Unafraid. There’s a weird dichotomy with today’s parent: The “no fear,” “do one thing every day that scares you” bumpersticker ethos of my generation has somehow resulted in parents that are more fretful, overcontrolling and oppressively attentive than the previous generation of supposedly less worldly, more conservative parents. Nonetheless, I didn’t want kids who had no innate fear of, say, large, noisy things like moving trucks, and frankly I hope my kids continue to show a healthy respect for the ways in which the world will flat-out fuck you up if you’re not careful. I know a lot of parents who tell their kids not to be afraid of anything, but everyone knows that courage has nothing to do with not being afraid. I’d rather have kids who have a healthy amount of fear for things that are genuinely fearsome, and do the important things anyway.

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