virtual children by Scott Warnock

Improve your kids? Maybe. But, ruin them? Ah…

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Every now and again I get myself invited to a dinner or cocktail party. At such an event recently, talking with a few good friends about the complexities of having kids, we came to a jarring and perhaps disheartening conclusion.

We were talking about our range of children (identities will be concealed to protect the innocent). We agreed that if you have multiple kids, there’s a straightforward rule: You do not, under any circumstances, have a favorite child. No way.

Now, that being said, some of your children will be a little easier to deal with. They’ll be a little more pleasant. They’ll be a little more enjoyable to be around. But, and I want to make this clear, we do NOT favor one kid because of these delightful, refreshing, endearing behaviors.

So, my friends and I were talking about the pitfalls and joys of raising children, lovely or not, and we examined the difference among children, again, all of whom are equally preferable in our eyes, who have given us more trouble and gray hair and the ones who have made having them a rewarding, delicious life treat.

Not surprising to you, I’m sure, we found that in trying to figure out the easy kids and their more challenging siblings, we had no answer as to how they ended up either way.

Again, not an unexpected conclusion, but it allowed us to follow an unexpected line of thinking. First, we felt that despite the vast energy we had spent parenting, the reality was it might not have mattered much. But, worse, it occurred likely to us that any traceable, identifiable causality led to… badness! For the good kids, it was hard to imagine a moment of catalyst that created goodness. Yet, in thinking through the, uh, complex kids, we could not help but wonder what had influenced them. Perhaps they were just, well, the way they were, but it seemed that some incident could have set them off the righteous path, maybe even something prenatal, perhaps even pre-prenatal, some, gah!, sperm-deforming trauma of the deep past.

Thus the jarring result: It is likely much easier to make your good kids bad than to do anything that makes your bad kids good. More directly: We likely have a better chance of ruining our kids than improving them.

That was a disheartening thing to ponder, glass of craft beer in my hand or not.

It drained my fundamental optimism about the whole endeavor. It made me think about how things can be so tenuous, so fragile, that the moment of wonder is impossible to maintain because disruption is so inevitable.

Maybe it’s set up like that. And as I wrote this, that made me think of my favorite poem, “Design” by Robert Frost, which I’ll leave you with in its entirety:

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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5 Responses to “Improve your kids? Maybe. But, ruin them? Ah…”

  1. Closing this article with “Design” brought tears to my eyes. Parenting is a journey. Well done my friend, well done.

  2. The Thornton’s always said Tommy was their favorite.

  3. The last kid gets it all, spoiled rotten bastards. The pioneers set the path, wear the rents down, break all the rules. By the time the last kid comes thru parents throw in the towel and give them whatever they want. I helped moved the last one of my siblings into her air-conditioned dorm with her TV, computer and car. When i arrived at Rutgers Camden, i had a sack of ramen noodles and chef boy, was told to find a place to live and don’t get in trouble. Ah the good old days. We got into plenty of trouble, had plenty of fun and I’m sure scared the hell out of our parents. All you can do is hope their happy and the rest will get figured out.

  4. What a great work of fiction! – YOU got invited to a party?!?!
    So funny!
    I agree with AB – Tommy is their favorite.
    Same as Robyn.
    Also, the reason you may not find yourself at many parties might be directly related to your conversation topics. You basically “enlightened” every parent at this one that their efforts are for naught. It really just doesn’t matter what they do – what will be, will be. Maybe go with sports topics next time.
    Go Wildcats!

  5. I don’t like spiders!!

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