Every time I see the advertisement on television for this product I cringe. And I thank the Lord above that I am not a new mother, sleep-deprived and desperate to make sure that my child has every possible advantage available to her. Feeling badly that I enrolled her in preschool without the ability to read, speak a foreign language and leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Why are we in such a hurry? What happened to babyhood? We've already begun chipping away at childhood by giving our elementary students hours of homework and standardized tests and expecting them to go to soccer practice three days a week. Our society places a high value on getting the jump on things. The day after Christmas, the Target store in my neighborhood has ripped down the trees and ornaments and images of Santa Claus and replaced them with shiny red hearts and boxes of candy and lacy doilies. Suburban mothers are encouraged to sign their newborns up for baby swim classes and begin shopping for preschools.
By mid-February there are bikinis displayed in the kids' section of Macy's and if I wait until May to look for sandals I am out of luck. Even if I get the sandals early, it is impossible to find any without a two-inch heel. Even the flip-flops in my eight-year-old's size have a wedge heel.
Parents do mental gymnastics after playdates, wondering how they can ensure that their child gets rid of the training wheels before Johnny does or graduates to a big-boy bed before anyone else in their kid circle. And now this. Before your child learns to walk (read: captive audience), they can read. If you just buy this and sit them in front of the DVD for an hour at a time. You must capitalize on this narrow window of time when your child's brain is ripe for language and TEACH THEM TO READ NOW!!! Or what?
I can remember agonizing over whether or not to let Eve quit violin after six months. She was five. It seems ridiculous now, but at the time, I honestly couldn't decide whether I was letting her "give up" or "cop out" if she stopped lessons. I didn't want to waste the six months she had put into the violin and, even though I had only rented the instrument, it seemed as though I might be giving up an opportunity to have her truly excel at something she had shown talent for if she quit. Thank goodness some rational voice came out of the skies and said, "She's not losing any brain cells if she quits. If she isn't enjoying it, why should she do it? She's five years old. And if she regrets it, she can always start again sometime later. Even when she's forty."
And that was it. I mean, what if she gets hit by a bus tomorrow? Do I want her entire childhood to have been crammed with educational opportunities instead of mud pies and lazy days swinging at the park? When I look back at my favorite memories, they don't involve getting straight A's on my report card. I remember hide-and-seek with my cousins, climbing trees, riding my bike down the steepest hill in town and the day my girlfriends and I skipped school and drove to the beach to act like five-year-olds for the day.
I don't want my life or my children's lives to be fraught with competition, every moment measured against some arbitrary standard or some other kid's accomplishments. I don't want to be burdened by always doing more than the next guy or defending my lack of ability. If you are a new parent, let me tell you a secret: the things that your child needs to learn, they will. As you're agonizing about potty training, let me reassure you that eventually, your child will learn to use the toilet. They may be three or four or ten, but they're not going to go to high school wearing Pull-Ups. Now, do yourself a favor and substitute "sleeping in their own bed" or "sleeping all night" or "reading" or "writing their own name" or "talking" or any other milestone for "potty training" and read it out loud. In front of a mirror. These things will happen, probably regardless of your blood, sweat, and tears.
We could all buy into this notion that we OUGHT to be doing more and being more and kill ourselves each and every day to get the educational/financial/social advantages that may (or may not) come along with those things, or we pour the Kool-Aid down the drain and get a nice glass of water instead, give it to our kids, and watch their little faces light up when they pour it out and play in it. Because when I look back at my favorite memories of my children's childhoods so far, they have nothing to do with reading or writing or potty training. Nope, I remember the first time Lola discovered that her food could double as finger paint and she coated the window in butterscotch pudding and yelled "Ta-da!" I remember Eve shoving her baby doll up inside her shirt and "breastfeeding" her all hours of the day while pushing her play vacuum around the house. I remember touching worms and splashing in puddles and their first experiences with snow. I remember those moments when they discovered something nobody set out to teach them and they were first astonished and then proud of themselves. It's not rocket science. There's plenty of time for that. But there isn't enough time to be a kid and just play. The least you can do as a parent is protect this time for them.