R Scott Okamoto
A Mad Dad's Manifesto- Episode One
If we’re honest with ourselves, there are countless reasons for a parent to be mad in every sense of the word. Whether due to loss of sleep, hopes, dreams, or sex, to mind-numbing routines of feedings, rides to school, practices, or rehearsals, “madness” as an emotion and a state of mind is perfectly warranted.
But we are often not honest with ourselves. Societal pressures tell us to wear these struggles as badges of pride. Parents put on a happy face and brag about how little sleep and sex they get, or how many hours they spend driving to and from ballet class or basketball practice. But, much as I’d like to blame “madness” on society, I am putting the blame equally on us, the parents of America.
We are fucking up our lives and the lives of our children. We are even hurting those around us who may or may not have kids. In truth, we are fucking up the world. And it has to stop.
Just to clarify, these are not the idiotic views of a dipshit “Men’s Rights” or religious conservative “Take the family back” man. I am a wholly progressive, cis he/him who believes in equality and equal opportunity for all people. Just not for kids.
Now, before you go accusing me of favoring child labor or offering up some modest proposal to harm or neglect children, relax. Children are the future. And despite that being about the most obvious statement ever sung, however brilliantly by Whitney Houston, (does she also believe water to be wet?) the future should be tended to with nurturing and love. And goddamn common sense.
In this series of rants, we will look at a few topics that I think contribute to our madness.
Parent Culture and K-8 Education
The Tyranny of the "Gifted"
Every meeting that involves parents and schools has at least one parent ask, “What is the school doing to keep my child be safe from shooters, terrorism, drugs, sex, or bullying?” It can be any combination of those concerns.
But, my favorite question that always gets asked is, “My child is certified gifted, and I’d like to know what the school/teachers do to keep my little genius stimulated, engaged, enriched, and growing…” or something along those lines.
Yes, from birth, a trope of parents truly believes their child to be a genius. By my count, 67% of parents believe their children to be in the 1% of intelligence and artistry. These parents gaze upon their infants and imagine brain cells containing the capability to solve the wildest mathematical equations, compose symphonies akin to Mozart, hang paintings next to Guernica, or cure cancer. Early on, in the toddler years, parents love to push poetry writing, but that fades quickly when they realize poets make no money. It becomes a symptom or hobby of the brilliant mind, I’m sure.
Reality eventually forces most parents to accept that their children are more interested in Pokemon and Ed Sheeran than astrophysics and Miles Davis. But that still leaves too many elementary school parents who can make any meeting last 30 minutes longer than it should because they ask questions about how concerned they are about school security with a haughty attitude that suggests the school officials have never considered safety before that moment. These questions are always followed by the questions that imply the school is not fit to adequately educate the snot-nosed 5 year-old genius spawned by Beverly, mother of Brayden the Gifted.
Full-disclosure: I tested gifted as a child. My wife did. My kids have severe ADD, but my daughter somehow came through on some stupid test and got the label slapped onto her school records. And I could not care less. I don’t want to demand extra resources from schools that don’t have enough for all of its students, especially those with special needs. I want her to do her fucking work and learn the insipid skills needed to go to college. (More on college to come)
Here’s a modest proposal: Let’s have “gifted” kids be considered “special needs” kids. Some kids have dyslexia. Some have physical disabilities. There are kids with bipolar disorder or other needs that a standard classroom does not take into account. These kids get extra help from educational professionals in specialized classrooms and settings. Let’s add “gifted” kids to this catch-all category. Gifted kids “need” extra resources and attention.
I should take this moment to acknowledge the educational and ethical minefield that is Special Education. People disagree on how to educate special needs kids. Some advocate “mainstreaming,” a process of gradually (or sometimes forcibly) placing special needs kids in a “normal” classroom. In any case, I don’t want to imply any negativity towards students in Special Ed programs, nor the programs themselves. I just want to suggest to the alpha moms out there who think their children are geniuses the rest of us need to make way for that their children should be classified as “special needs.” However that sounds to everyone, I imagine it would horrify the parents who consider their kids to be “above” everyone else.
Clumsy, heavy-handed satire in 3…2....
Gifted kids should be in Special Ed. because, according to their parents, they are incapable of learning in community with “normal” kids. Knowledge and cognition are capital designated for the gifted, but it can only be attained if education moves at a speed appropriate for the gifted kids. Move any slower than gifted speed, and the gifted child will spiral into despair and boredom, eventually becoming a meth-addicted homeless person. Such a waste.
It’s serious, y’all. “Normal” education is likely depriving us of the next Einstein, Picasso, Beethoven, or Marie Curie. Gifted mom is not only advocating for her special child. She is advocating for the whole world which would benefit from the genius locked inside the head and hands of her profoundly potentially prodigious progeny.
I close this portion of my manifesto with a story.
When my oldest, Ethan, was a toddler, I took him to a well-check appointment at the pediatrician’s office. We sat in the waiting room across from a mother and daughter of about the same age as Ethan. The mother was reading loudly to her child from some kid book. After every sentence or two, the mom would stop and ask comprehension or contextual questions of her kid. “Do you know what that word means?” “Why do you think the man is saying this?”
The kid sat, stone-faced, dutifully listening and answering in a flat tone of voice. At one point, the mom caught the glance of another parent next to me. She smiled, shrugged, and said, “She’s such a voracious reader and learner. It’s amazing how quickly they learn and develop at this age.”
Her eyes then fell onto my son. Ethan was holding a Hot Wheels car in each hand and staring at them as he held them in front of his face. He would put one down and roll it on the armrest of his chair and then hold it back up to his face. I had no idea what was going on in his head, but he was lost in thought. And it looked really weird. The mom made a face at Ethan and then looked at me, the bookless would-be Father-of-the-Year. Her eyes pierced with judgment. Even her daughter watched Ethan for a moment, but her eyes didn’t look judgmental. They looked curious. Like she was wondering what Ethan was so engrossed in.
I like to think Ethan was imagining himself inside those cars, traveling roads we couldn’t see to places only he could imagine. Or maybe he was plotting the destruction of humankind. I’ll never know.
The mom cleared her throat and went back to her honors literature for 3 year-olds lesson, and we got called into the doctor’s office. But not before one last crusty parting glance from the mom. Parenting is a contact sport.
We all make mistakes as parents. I’ve made enough to fill big books. But I’m more concerned about my kids learning to be part of family and community than being labeled as “gifted.” Of course I want them to learn and grow to their potential and find their identity in the knowledge and understanding of this world.
In conclusion: Education is important. Being Gifted is not. Parents can be detrimental to education. I’d rather live in Ethan’s imagination than honor English mom’s world. And while I'm all for enriching, educational interactions between parents and children, I think the spaces in between lessons can be as valuable and enriching as curriculum-driven interactions. Plus, those spaces give us time for hopes, dreams, sex, and tv.
And let’s not kid ourselves about the futures of those gifted kids.
Next up: The Parent Fear Factor- Why we fear absurd things and kill fun