Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On childhood.

Today at lunch, while enjoying my quiet dish of tuna-cheezy noodle casserole, a few co-workers reminisced about the time when they had similar dishes as poor kids; when they couldn’t afford milk to put on their shredded wheat.

I knew what was coming.

"Kids today don’t appreciate anything," one woman said. I think she heard my eyes rolling, because she and another co-worker addressed me - and the fun began.

Stories of children who didn’t appreciate their $100 tennis shoes or who demanded a cell phone at age 13. Stories about, when they were kids, working night and day, all summer long, to afford a pair of pants for school in the fall. Up-hill both ways.

"And isn’t it weird," I said, "that your parents probably said the same thing when you were kids. ‘Our kids have no respect.’"

Oh no. Not their parents. Our generation was apparently special. We are selfish, spoiled brats, demanding a TV in our room and a Lexus when we graduate.

As in Macbeth, a lot of sound and fury signifying bullshit.

First, I don’t think there’s anything about our "entitlement generation" that bucks trends from the last - oh, I don’t know - umpteen generations before us. Our parents wanted more from their parents, who wanted more from their parents, and on and on. And our parents gave in. They wanted to give more to their kids then they had. It’s the American Dream.

Second, any glorification of one’s childhood amounts to a pissing contest. "Well, we had it worse" and "You don’t know how bad we had it" just becomes a silly boxing match, neither side giving ground until they end up barefoot in the snow, tilling fields for pennies a day (if they were lucky) and enjoying a rare ice cream cone on Sundays.

I don’t care how bad you had it as a kid. You made it out alive.

And if you’re using your woe-betrodden childhood to make your life legit, you deserve the rotten kids you have now.

I was diagnosed type 1 diabetic at age seven. I went to about 15 different schools up until high school. I had an unfit mother.

These are my experiences, and they make me who I am. But I don’t trot them out for the world to stand up, take notice, and identify with my suffering. In fact, I rarely share instances of my childhood. Because they’re mine.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe when I have kids, as those women in the lunchroom say, I’ll "understand." Understand this: I’m going to spoil my kids rotten. Why? Because, like my parents were supposed to do, I’m going to give my offspring a better life than I had growing up. It’s the greatest legacy you can give to the world, my grandmother says - a well-off, responsible, loved child.

Why complain about giving your kids the world, even if comes in the form of a Playstation? I think if you do your job as a parent, your kids will care about the things that matter. And, after their selfish teenage years, they’ll appreciate you as a parent when they reach adulthood.

You don’t, after all, have to buy a new car for your kid when they graduate. You can make them earn it with an after-school job.

But I can just hear it: "Junior’s job isn’t nearly as tough as the one I had as a kid."

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