Monday, December 29, 2008

Perfectly happy

So I’m trying (belatedly) to read the new Siri Hustvedt novel, but the baby book on the table is so much more suited to my bite-size concentration span at the moment. The section on Post-natal depression (always a cheerful breakfast read) in Kidwrangling mentions that “expecting things to be perfect” is a personality trait that can predispose you towards developing PND. There are a million other factors too, of course. The main one is having a baby.

Those of you who have seen my house will understand that I am already okay with things not being perfect. But what about expecting your children to be perfect?

There’s a short story that I’ve always loved, though I can’t remember for the life of me who wrote it or what it was called. It was about a perfect little girl who never misbehaved and never lost her temper. This level of perfection naturally caught the attention of and annoyed the devil, who became determined to make her crack it (I can’t remember if there was some deal where he got her soul if she lost her rag, or if it was a slow week in hell and he just needed a new project). He made everything go wrong for her. I especially remember he made her dolls fall in the mud and get stepped on by horses. But every time this little girl pulled a Pollyanna on him and didn’t lose her temper. Eventually the devil hit upon a long-term plan, which worked a treat and made this little-girl-now-woman absolutely furious.

He gave her a perfect husband.

He gave her a perfect house.

……..And he gave her a “fair-to-middling” child.

I love it. It’s such an evil little story. And I love the idea that the best way to piss off a perfect person is to give them something that everyone else would be quite happy with.

Although maybe not, as according to the tv, most parents these days require their children to become Prime Minister. These little tackers are either going to have to share the role or become leaders of different countries, because there just isn’t enough Prime Ministership to go round that many kids. Paul and I recently watched “Life at One”, a production about child development that follows a bunch of kids and their parents from birth (they’re up to “Life at Three” now). When the parents were asked what they wanted for their children, a scary amount of them said they wanted their child to be “healthy”, “confident” and “leaders”.

Paul and I look at each other in horror. “I don’t want to be a confident leader,” I said. “Neither do I,” says Paul. Is anyone going to mention that they’d like their child to be “happy”? Nope. Or maybe “happy” is supposed to be an exclusive result of combining those other three terms.

I want most for my child to be happy. Healthy is good too. If being a confident leader makes him happy, I can deal with that. But if we all give birth to confident leaders, the amount of public speaking competitions in high school will soon reach critical mass, and might distract from the importance of sporting events.


Here’s to shy children.

Here’s to children who quietly hold their own opinions.

Here’s to children who quietly hold no opinions at all.

Here’s to children who say “I don’t know” in answer to every question they’re asked, because it’s easier or they’re embarrassed or they can’t be bothered.

Here’s to children who, to quote Tripod, aren’t ahead of the pack. They’re just with the pack. Towards the back.

Here’s to children who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and still don’t know when they are grown up.

Here’s to easy-going children.

Here’s to children who do what they think they want to do (which may even involve enrolling in a course that doesn’t take full advantage of their VCE score).

Here’s to them changing their minds and doing something completely different.

And here’s to fair-to-middling children. May they piss off perfectionists and give the devil his due.

1 comment:

hwc said...

found this in my travels...