Dani Shapiro
March 7, 2007

Stop the Madness

In the past couple of weeks, two very different op-eds have appeared in The New York Times that speak to the same issue. The first, titled “Mosh Pit Meets Sandbox”, appeared on the Op-Ed page two Sundays ago. It was written by David Brooks, whose columns usually annoy me no end. This time, I’ve got to say, I found myself reading Brooks and nodding, chuckling softly to myself. (This is rare, the soft chuckle upon reading.) He takes on hipster parents, in particular the Park Slope, Brooklyn version of hipster parents. (I have no doubt a similar breed exists in Seattle, Silver Lake, Portland and even perhaps Montclair.) He writes in a howl of conservative outrage about toddlers wearing the same ponchos and black skull slippers, sporting the same bed-head haircuts as their mommies and daddies. His point is that we parents are turning our children into little, narcissistically-driven mini-me’s. And I don’t think he’s at all wrong–but the problem is larger than the bummer of infants wearing “My Mom’s Blog is Better than Your Mom’s Blog” tee-shirts.

The second piece, “Early Admissions”, by a young novelist named Karin Cook, came out earlier this week. On the surface of things, Brooks and Cook have nothing in common as writers or as thinkers, and are making very different arguments. Cook’s piece is a hilarious faux-letter to a private pre-school, exhorting, pleading, wheedling with the school to consider admitting the child in question. Pegged to this week in March when all the pre-schools send out their letters of acceptance/wait list/rejection–a week when all the New York City moms of pre-school children I know are popping xanax and not even pretending to maintain their cool–Cook’s letter pokes fun, but the reason it made it onto the op-ed page is because there is truth simmering beneath every jibe, every absurdity. I know of at least three children–precocious, beautiful, bright and gifted (99th percentile! how is it that every single New York City child I know is in the 99th percentile?)–who were shut out of kindergarten this year. Shut out! The parents are wealthy, hugely successful, even, in one case, famous. And the kids didn’t get in.

How can this be? Because we’re living in an insane culture. That’s how. Because this generation of parents, and perhaps the one preceeding it– the one whose kids are being tutored and coached within an inch of their lives by companies such as IvyWise so that they have a prayer of getting into a good college–have lost our minds completely. We have lost sight of the whole idea of the happiness of children. The idea that children will find their own way, with gentle parental guidance. That our children are neither our possessions, nor our reflections. (See the recent Tiffany’s ad on the back of Cookie magazine: a soft-focus mother, her head not in the picture, holding a chubby naked cherub of a baby in her bejeweled arms.)

The point Brooks makes — that we’re turning our children into replicas of ourselves, and ourselves into replicas of our children — is true not only of hipster parents, but of Ralph Lauren polo-playing parents, soccer moms who have stickers of soccer balls all over the backs of their SUV’s, and the list goes on. And as our dopplegangers rather than individual, idiosyncratic creatures, our children simply must get into the best pre-schools, because pre-school leads to Harvard, or wherever floats your boat, and everything is riding on it. Our egos, our children’s futures as we imagine them, our whole selves.