See, the way it used to be, didn't matter much what you did with your kids. Keep 'em upright and don't let them swallow nickels, and you were GTG. Good to go.
From my life files: I grew up comfortably upper middle class, but outside of a few months of Little League baseball, I was on my own as far as “fun' went. My parents weren't dragging me left, right and center. In fact, my strongest memory revolves around Sunday mornings, being allowed to sit in the front seat for the drive over to Pete's Stationary Store where my dad would buy the Sunday paper. As far as the rest of the big jumble of memories of my parents? Pretty straightforward: They were around.
But you know what wasn't around? The feeling of having to fill each and every waking moment of your child's life with enriching activities. For real, and I know current parents are nodding their heads: If you don't take your six-month old to the “Six Month Old Chinese Language/Music with Apple Baked Goodness and No Peanuts Were Used In Making This Announcement' class you are a bad, bad, terrible, horrible parent who should be sent to a remedial parents class taught by the overly fertile insane mother on “19 Kids and Counting.'
Can't just let the kids veg in front the TV for fear you'll be found out by the local Mom's Club, who will then tell the non-local mom's clubs about your aberrant behavior, and next thing you know, while their little Jocelyn learned to crochet in the original French style, your kid is still eating yarn and you're shunned from the parents gabfest at the park.
If I'm sounding a little crazed, I'll tell you why: It's because I tried to do the right thing, tried to coddle my little darlings and all it got me was a stern talking-to from the missus after I damn near popped a gasket explaining what, exactly, happened.
And what happened? Ugh. I was playing “Mr. Mom' during a time I don't usually play Mr. Mom, my daughter pitched a fit at a music class, my son pitched a fit during a healthy attempt at lunch, and then I pitched a fit when I dropped them off with my wife. Details? Would fill a book. But they don't really matter. It was just one disaster after another.
But the point is this: If I had gone with my gut instinct - namely, turn on Nick Jr. or Sprout and let them watch a little TV and play while I sat on the couch and surfed the web - everyone wouldn't been perfectly happy.
But I couldn't do that. I felt compelled to enrich the little buggers, if for no other reason I knew other parents were out there enriching their little buggers, even though I knew deep down the only reason they're running around and enriching is because they think everyone else is willingly and happily running around and enriching, when in fact the only reason this frenzied enriching is going on is because we're all fearful we, as parents, will be ostracized for not trying super-duper hard to enrich our children. Two things: 1) I've come to hate the word “enrich' and 2) see what's going on up there? It's a vicious circle. A vicious enrichment circle. We all think we're lousy parents if we're not doing every last activity with our kids, and all these activities drive us and our kids nutso.
Again, think back to your childhood: It was not like this, and we turned out just fine. In fact, if you really think about your youth, it's not the “things' your parents did with you that stick out; it's almost the opposite. Just being there, just being around - or, conversely, not being around - are the things that stand out.
And with that 20/20 hindsight, my kids and I would've had a much happier and less hectic time the other day if we just hung out with each other, watched some TV, played some Darth Vader and stuffed animals, and forgot about what every other overextended parent and child was up to.
Or maybe I'm just a lousy parent. Who knows. All I know is I can't crochet, and I don't care.
Jeff Edelstein can be reached at facebook.com/jeffreyedelstein and twitter.com/jeffedelstein.