You bought your little darling flashcards. Your bought your little darling ABC Mouse. You bought your little darling LeapFrog and CodeyBot and then said fuck it, and threw all of it out because Wooden Toys Are Better for the Imagination And Yield Higher Test Scores (this may be bullshit, but you drank the hippie Kool-Aid and bought that Waldorf rainbow thingie).
You bought your little darling’s way into the best preschool and then packed up all your shit and moved into a different school district so your little darling could attend the best kindergarten. But in the middle of this academic rat race, which started with playing Goodnight Moon and Mozart over headphones strapped to your pregnant belly, you forgot one important lesson. You forgot to teach your little darling to be kind.
Because here’s the truth of children: unless you model kind behavior, they will grow up to be assholes.
While you’re flashcardin’ it up at home, little darling was plowing over kids at the playground. While you were ABC Mousin’ and LeapFroggin’ and CodeyBottin’, your special one was stealing the other kids’ shovels and pails, then screaming and refusing to give them back. Those wooden toys were great for bashing people over the head. And preschool today? Forget soft skills like cooperation and independence; it’s all about those letters and numbers, because kindergarten is all about reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Then there’s soccer and baseball and lacrosse and dance and cheerleading and whateverthefuckyour kid does to race ahead of all the other kids early on, because you gotta get that leg up for the college scholarship early — you know Tiger Woods, man.
Guess what? No one gives a shit that your third grader can do algebra. When you tell me that, I roll my fucking eyes. Because your third grader just punched the shit out of my third grader, and all the equations in the world won’t fix the fact that you’re raising a bully.
When you raise a bully, when you raise a kid who runs over others in pursuit of success, who pushes in the lunch line, who doesn’t take turns, who gossips and teases and spreads meanness, you’re contributing to the toxic world we live in. You also set your precious wittle baby up for failure. Because the day will come when they fuck with the wrong person. And it will knock them on their ass. No one likes an asshole. Assholes blame the world for their problems. Assholes can’t hold down consistent relationships. Assholes turn on you, mom and dad.
My kids can’t spell worth shit. But when I take them to Target alone, I have to choke back tears because they refuse to get a Lego minifigure unless I buy one for their absent brothers, too. That’s the type of kid I want to raise. In twenty years, no one will remember that my seven-year-old was a creative speller. But they’ll sure as hell know the groundwork we laid: talk about things, not people. Include everyone when you play, even little kids people overlook. Offer a hand when someone falls. If they’re crying, ask why. Apologize when you’re wrong, and mean it.
An old friend, at a time when we were still sorting out our footing with each other, had a son who won the Kindness Award for his whole fifth grade. “I’d rather him get that than have perfect math scores,” she said, and I could hear the pride in her voice. I knew, in that moment, that I wanted to be this woman’s friend again more than anything. Because she valued something important.
She didn’t give a fuck if her kids were the smartest. She cared if her kids sat with the lonely one at the lunch table. She wanted her kids to help others, to share their pencils, to comfort the kids who were sad. That’s the mom I want on my side. That’s the kid who grows up to pick up my kid when he makes some stupid mistake; that’s the kid who stands up against racism; that’s the kid who gives money to the homeless and a listening ear to the grieving. That’s the kid, in other words, who makes the world worth living in. The kid who’s kind.
I don’t believe in much anymore. But there’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote I cling to. It’s a line from the novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. The main character’s preparing a speech to give to newborn twins, and he comes up with this: “Welcome to Earth … On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
Your kid’s test scores? They’re great. Really. Lovely for you and him. Lovely for your cheerleader who made it to Nationals. But if he’s yelling “Shut up, you’re ugly!” across the classroom, and she’s snarking behind her friends’ backs, they’ll grow up into isolation and sadness. They make the world a worse place to live in.
Because goddamn it, babies, you’ve got to be kind.
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