Sending a message at Christmastime

Dear friends, I hate to be the one to tell you, but all that stuff last month about "Oh, come let us adore Him," wasnít about your kid.
    It may not be my place to comment on how other people rear their children, but in my head I keep hearing the phrase "future leaders of America" and figure that gives me standing. Besides, opinion columnists are supposed to irk a few people now and then.
    Ordinarily, I donít look too closely at the Christmas card photos our friends send us because the miniature people in them look less like children and more like those mannequins that Ralph Lauren is always pushing on us. But this year all those shots stood out in stark contrast to the picture we got from my friends Fran and Natalie, who have five little (and medium-sized) ones.
    Maybe because five kids keep them a-hoppin, or maybe because theyíre just genuine people, their Christmas card showed kids who actually look like kids: Messy hair, sweat pants, grass-stained jeans, floppy hats. I liked it.
    Other than that one and the few family shots which included parents, none of the other pictures we got made it to our refrigerator door Louvre. First not to make the cut were the photos were those of kids I havenít met and, of course, the baby pictures. I know parents of these infants think their offspring look just like Mommy or Daddy, but for all I can tell, they might have been switched at birth.
    The next to be tossed are the poses of an older brother gazing adorably upon his little sibling. I wonder how many rolls of film and how big the bribe of Nintendo cartridges it took to capture that one.
    Right behind them, out go the photos of children gazing out over an ocean or some such place, as if they have some deep thoughts in their heads. If one of those kids is a healthy red-blooded seven-year-old boy, whatís most likely on his mind is either picking his nose or playing Nintendo. And the heavy thought weighing on his sister is how much she hates her brother for either picking his nose or hogging the Nintendo.
    Most of my friends say they want their kids to have a similar childhood to their own. And yet they orchestrate the environment of their children in ways that couldnít be more different.
    I was in Starbuckís the other day sitting next to a mother and her daughter, who was about three. Mommy took the last sip of her grande mochaccino soy decaf latte and said "Hurry up Ashley, or weíll be late for jumping class."
    People are out there being paid to teach children how to jump. Well, I suppose I had jumping class when I was a kid , too. "Jump up and do the dishes," or "Jump up and do your homework."
    The bar for parental bragging is a lot lower than it used to be. I was at a party a while back and someone was going on about his kid getting 1400 on his SATís. I had to bite my tongue. I had over 1400 on my SATís which, in my family, qualifies just above being slow-witted. These things are all relative and, in the end, largely irrelevant.
    My sister and her husband are academic types and deprived their children of both video games and cable television. Their oldest graduates Dartmouth in the spring and the next one starts Harvard in the fall. They've never put any stickers on the car window. I donít think Iíll mention where I spent my five years of college.
    Parental boasting may come cheaper, but thatís about the only thing. We are far more indulging and self-indulgent than our parents ever were, though not necessarily more than our parents are as grandparents. A survey out this week showed that Connecticut ranks first in per capita income but 26th in charitable giving. Among people earning $100,000 - $200,000, this state ranks 49th.
    True, the numbers are not adjusted for the higher costs here of housing and other necessities, but it still is one indicator of how we Nutmeggers spend our dough.
    Another was the story over Christmas of the family who paid to have snow manufactured on their lawn so their kids would have a White Christmas. Or the numerous anecdotes of parents blowing what is for some a weekís pay on the hottest Beanie Babies or Pokemon paraphernalia.
    And of course there were a few greenbacks going to photographers for professional Christmas card pictures. It doesnít send a great message to the kids themselves, but the shame of it is that the real charm of children lies in a genuineness which canít be captured in these photos. Itís just posing, and these kids will have plenty of opportunity for that as adults.



January 3, 2000