Monday, August 21, 2006

Something in the Air

Let me begin by saying that I like children. I really do. They can be charming, funny and surprisingly insightful for short people with little life experience. What I hate are parents who think it reasonable to inflict their ill mannered children on the world at large, while taking no responsibility for their behavior.

While I understand that even the nicest children have testing moments in which one coud swear they'd succumbed to demonic possession, some of the things one sees leaves little doubt that the behavior is not a momentary outburst, but the product of conditioning that says "It's fine for me to act this way, because my parents aren't going to enforce any kind of behavioral standards anyway."

Take, for example, the eight year old I saw at Safeway yesterday. When I first encountered him and his mother in the cereal aisle, he was up in her face, squacking about her buying the wrong sugar coated breakfast candy. When I last saw (or perhaps I should say heard) them, they were in the shortest checkout line in the store with no one behind them (which I presume was no coincidence). The spawn of Satan was sitting in a cart doing his best Veruca Salt impression screaming "I WANT Gatorade!!!!" over and over at the top of his lungs, while his mother just stood there pretending not to hear him.

Despite what I knew would have been a shorter wait, I bypassed their line, opting for one at the other end of the checkout area. In my haste to get away from young Damien, I ended up behind woman with three little, blonde monkeys, who would have been cute, if one hadn't be screeching "Wheeeeeeeeeeeee-ooooooooooooooooh, Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-oooooooooooooh, Wheeeeeeeeeee-oooooooooooooooh" at the top of her lungs like a pint sized air raid siren, while her slightly older sister repeatedly whined "stooooop" and their mother pretended not to hear either of them. I know she was pretending, because she was standing closer than I, and I swear the sound actually made something deep inside my cranium explode.

In the mother's defense, she was busy warding off monkey #3 as he simultaneously occupied himself with ripping her Safeway card, then her money out her hand all while trying to climb onto her shoulder, using the small suitcase slung over it as a step ladder. If that wasn't enough, he also managed to wrestle the card away from the checker as she was trying to swipe it, making me wonder if he was training to be a mugger when he grows up. Frankly, I don't think I could take it if I were his mother, and not even out of noble, altruistic reasons like lack of migraines for my fellow man, but for my own sanity. I just can't imagine actually living with that when five minutes in the grocery store had me weighing whether I might actually prefer a sharp stick in the eye to listening to another minute of their noise.

What are even worse, though, than these inattentive parents are those who seem to expect the rest of the world to be responsible for the moral fortitude of their offspring. They are the people who seem to take Hillary Clinton and her African "It takes a village..." proverb a bit too literally. This may come as a shock to them, but it actually does not end with the words " the parents can slack off and take no personal responsibility for their children's upbringing".

This has been particularly on my mind since a recent phone run-in with a woman from the Dove Foundation, who became irate when I suggested to her that perhaps if people like her are so concerned about the "...gratuitous sex, violence and anti-family values that their children are exposed to at the movie theaters and on their own video/DVD players", they might consider monitoring what it is they watch. Her response to this was basically "monitor, schmonitor" and that what we really need to do is "hold Hollywood accountable" and get rid of "objectionable programming". This begs the question: Who gets to decide what is objectionable? Certainly there is a grey area somewhere between porn and Barney.

While I'm all for a parent's right (even responsibility) to shield her kids from things she doesn't want them to see, I fail to understand how that translates into no one should be able to see them. What's objectionable for a five year old is not necessarily so for someone of my age (a young plenty-nine). Not everything is suitable for young eyes and ears, but that is where the parents should come in. I guess it's easier to censor than it is to take an active part in their children's entertainment and education, just like it's easier to infringe on other people's happy, non-migrained time at the store rather than discipline one's children and expect them to behave with some semblance of manners and courtesy toward others.

Thus sayeth the curmudgeon...


Jen said...

there must be something in the air, because the Simpsons just played the episode where Marge tried to pass her Families First initiative! Monty Burns supported it because he loves children and "their tender young organs and tendency to fall." or something like that. hee hee.

good for you thinking of something to say to the Dove lady right away -- I always think of it after I've hung up the phone.

Martina said...

Oh, Monty! How you amuse me!

I am still sort of surprised at myself that I talked back to the Dove lady, not to mention amused at her response of "Are you going to let me finish?" I've never had a telemarketer say that to me before. Ok, I know technically, because she's from a "do not call list" exempt 501c3 it's not the same, but it totally is. The only difference is that instead of time shares, she was invading my phone line to sell censorship.

Leslita said...

Can I join the curmudgeon club? I think kids these days are out of control! Of course, we don't notice the good ones as much. But STILL!

Martina said...

You can not only join, you can be a founding member. It's good to know I'm not a lone cranky balcony muppet. Now I have a partner. Tee hee.

You are right, though, people usually only notice the bad and there ARE some really good kids out there too. Our neighbors, for instance, have the sweetest kids I've ever met. They are so polite, and I'm sure they must get up each other's noses once in a while, but I've never seen them be anything but sweet to each other.

Chris said...

I've been avoiding commenting on this thread because my instinct is to go off on a 5000-word rant about this and related parenting issues. I'll stick to the following observations:

1. We are not being curmudgeonly. As far as I'm aware, none of the four of us here has children. That means that we are objective observers and we object to what we observe.

We have every right to be unsympathetic to people who have made bad choices. We are the innocents who suffer most from these bloody appalling people. We even subsidise their children from our taxes.

2. Over time, bad parenting has got worse, certainly here in the UK. Thirty years ago there was a regular newspaper advertisement to recruit summer camp staff for the States, headlined "The American child. Is he a monster?" The assumption was that we all thought yes, obviously. Now we would have to say yes, just like ours.

3. In continental Europe it's completely different. I've not been there in years but I'm sure it's still true that you can go to a restaurant in which there are several families with kids and they will all be perfectly civilised, like people only smaller.

All this dissatisfaction is part of a positive impetus for me to get the hell out of this country. I'm also suffering from Simpsons withdrawal but I'm not sure what to do about that.

Anonymous said...

You were not the only one to blog about the Dove Foundation on August 21st. Another Blogger was Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon. Here is a link to his press release on Dove Foundation dated August 21st:

You were probably called by Dove's computer system where you only heard recorded statements.

If it sounds like money is behind the whole charade, it is. Dove Foundation's affiliate just happens to have some "clean" entertainment to sell you.

Martina said...

Interesting. Thank you for the link. The day they called me, I actually did speak to a human. I probably would not have gotten quite as riled up, if it had been a computer. A computer would not have asked me if I was going to let her finish, which just adds insult to injury when someone is invading your personal space and time.