work at a small-town newspaper, and on any given week, I have reduced half the children in town to bitter tears, or so their parents and teachers would have me believe. I seem to be the Grinch who stole childhood.
Maybe I didn't run the elementary school sixth-week honor roll, which includes all the names of children who managed to make a B in that short span. Not an A even, and not even straight As for the year, but just a B average for one report card, what you'd think would be expected of a child.
Or maybe they're all weeping and gnashing their teeth in disappointment because instead of a front page story with several photos of their latest activity, I just ran one photo with a few words under it for a caption.
Or maybe I have profoundly scarred some little girl because her name is Brittany, and we spelled it Brittany, except it turns out to actually be Britany or Britnee or even Brit'nee. I have plaques and certificates of merit, even engraved Jefferson pewter cups, with my name spelled all kinds of screwy ways on them. If I needed therapy every time this happened, I'd be in a straightjacket by now.
One time, thinking I was at least pleasing one child by running a photo of him with the first deer he had shot and killed, I learned I had variously ruined another child's appetite, this one's life, that one's Christmas, and this other one's pleasure in the movie "Bambi." I found I had now made it necessary for the parents to explain what "shot and killed" meant to children they claimed had no idea of such a concept.
One irate schoolteacher, who thought her classes' projects deserved more than a photo on an inside page, got into a screaming match with me on the phone over whether or not I thought children and charities were "worth it" or not, and if so, then why wasn't it a bigger story? I told her it was worth the space it got, which caused her to call her husband, who regularly ran a small ad in the paper. He called his ad representative and threatened to pull his little ad unless the story was rerun, this time with the coverage it deserved.
Well, I'm sorry, but we can't always get what we want, and like the Israeli government, I can't give in to threats. Even if I was thinking of capitulating a little, now they've put me in a situation where I can't give an inch because that would only empower a bully.
That night I thought about the value system of a teacher who, when she doesn't get what she wants, threatens other people until she does, and if that was the value system I would want a teacher of my child to have. Is that what they teach children these days? If you don't get what you feel you deserve, then make someone pay?
Apparently so, and that's why the kids are taking guns to school and shooting everyone up. The morning after all this happened, I saw repeated broadcasts of a news report that a parent who had ordered two Game Boy cartridges for his son from Toys R Us online was only going to get one. The other was sold out, and instead of the cartridge, Toys R Us was sending a $100 gift certificate, nearly three times the value of the game. A bonanza you say?
Oh no. The parent went on television to say with a grim face that his child "would not understand" only getting one Game Boy cartridge instead of two. They even showed a photo of the poor, deprived child. Call Save the Children now. Call Christian's Children Fund! Because here is a pathetic child who is only getting one Game Boy cartridge and a $100 gift certificate. He is not getting everything he wants when he wants it! Oh, alas! Grab the gun and let's go shoot up Toys R Us.
The irate parent who wanted to see the honor role printed said if I did not carry on the tradition to honor her child, her child would be disappointed.
A disappointed child.
Life, I hate to break this news to you, is full of disappointment. It is full of pain and heartache and failure. People we love die. Jobs we want go to other people. Our enemies triumph. Our best efforts sometimes go for nothing. The one we love doesn't love us back. The one we trusted betrays us. No one will ever have the money they think they need. Only one person can win the race, and everyone else is an also-ran. Someone will always be richer, smarter, prettier, more popular. Every stoplight we come to, someone will have a nicer, newer car.
We need to prepare our children to face disappointment. Instead, we try to build a buffer around them where their feelings will never be hurt and failure never darkens the light. If they cannot make A's in school, we will reward them for C's. If the neighbor children have $100 tennis shoes, we will buy them as well. If Pokemon is the price of self-esteem, then Pokemon it will be. They want cell phones and cars when they're 16? Get them cell phones and cars!
We shoot them out of the womb and right into daycare centers while we go out and earn money, and then to compensate for not being in their lives, we spend that money on them to keep them drugged up on material goods. We are the first pushers in their lives, getting them hooked on instant gratification as we run in circles, ensuring our child is never, never disappointed by anyone or anything.
But we can't protect them from everything and everyone, and eventually they hit a brick wall, and the one thing we haven't given them is the ability to handle disappointment, to deal with it, to suck it up and move on to something positive. Instead, they just hit the wall startled and unprepared, and mommy can't fix it this time. So the real drug dealer will help them with their pain, and maybe taking a gun to school and eliminating some more pain will help, too.
Your child is disappointed? Good. Let them feel it, let them soak in the whole essence of disappointment, or else you'll be teaching them to not feel anything.
Mariane Matera is a writer and editor who lives in Richmond.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.
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