“Every now and then I am tempted to audition them for a commercial so we can put the money into their college savings, but there’s just no way I’d do that.”
Wanda gave me a look. “I hate to tell you, but your kids can’t be in a commercial. They aren’t well enough behaved. They’d get fired.”
I briefly imagined Benjamin knocking over cameras and lighting equipment, then running cackling from the child handler with Giraffie hanging out of his mouth. “That’s not true. Zachary can behave.”
“But he doesn’t have the personality for it,” she pointed out.
“Ah, so what we’d need is Benjamin’s gregariousness with Zachary’s willingness to do what he’s told.” I felt like Dorothy, wondering if there is such a child. There must be, because the commercials are lousy with kids. Just not my kids, who lack the requisite combination of showmanship and obedience.
There are, however, things they are good at. Very, very good at. I won’t get into details here, because I am cautious with what I write about them, but suffice it to say that they are not without their abilities. And I don’t just mean their obvious talent for complete and total mayhem.
When I wrote last week about Michael Jackson’s ruined life, I wasn’t just talking about child actors. I was talking about the need to push children to accomplish things. Whether it be getting into the gifted program or being the star of the soccer team, there is nothing more destructive than taking a child’s gift and turning it into fodder for the spotlight.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not at all opposed to gifted programs or chess camp or what have you. Sometimes, a highly gifted child can only feel normal if she is among others like her. I am all for helping kids find an environment in which they are comfortable and in which they can feel like they are among their peers. However, I think there is a lot of push to make children stand out, be better than their peers.
We want all our children to be from Lake Wobegone. I am here to argue that perhaps there is something to be said for allowing our children to be average and for teaching them that Cs are just fine sometimes. Nothing is a greater gift for an unusual child than to find an environment that challenges her without making her feel like she must be number one. Hell, all kids can use that.
What it comes down to is a societal worship of success, which is a kissing cousin of the societal worship of celebrity. Even most of those who eschew monetary success or fame are determined to be the top of their game, whatever their game may be. Whether it’s making millions or being the most selfless of the social workers or being the crunchiest mama on the block, we spend a lot of time trying to stand out. I know a lot of my struggle lately has been disappointment that I am not remarkable.
Being remarkable didn’t make Michael Jackson happy, and pushing my kids to excel may be a disservice. If they are on the swim team, I want them always to work to beat their own records, but there is a fine line between instilling that work ethic and pushing them to bring home the ribbons. A talent should bring joy to the possessor and should be used to serve the community. All too often, we instead use our talents to shove our way to the top, where we perch miserably looking out at our kingdom, before sometimes falling ignominiously into the mud.
So, no, you probably won’t be seeing my kids in a commercial anytime soon, and not just because Benjamin would pour coffee all over the director and Zachary would eat all the doughnuts. J and I want them to grow up without the ethos we ourselves both have – the need to prove ourselves to some audience out there. In the end? Most of the audience is too busy trying to succeed to even notice.