Even before I had kids of my own, I had pretty
strong ideas about the form that a parent/child relationship should
take. Of course I had been on the 'child' end of such an arrangement
at one time, but in addition to my own experiences, I had also given
the matter a lot of thought in its own right.
It seemed obvious to me even then, that there are
two main areas influencing the development of a child. The most
fundamental of these is the child's own heredity, the built-in set of
capabilities/handicaps/personality that is 'programmed' in at
conception. This basic 'set-up' is then modified and shaped by
influences from the outside world as the child grows year by year to
adulthood, and of course continues even past that point, although I
think in an ever decreasing manner.
One of the most interesting and exciting mysteries
of our existence is this 'heredity vs environment' question, but
that's not what I'm writing about today. What I'm more concerned with
at the moment, is looking at the 'environment' side of the equation,
and specifically, the relationship between two parts of it: on the
one hand, the parent of the child, and on the other, everything else.
From the child's point of view, parents are obviously just another
part of the 'outside world', but from my view as a parent, I
obviously feel that I have a special role to play in the child's
At one time, I used to think of a parent's role in
terms of 'controlling' a child's upbringing: "She will do this. She
won't do that." Now that I am older and have a lot more sense, I have
come to realize that the proper role is 'guiding': outlining options,
and helping the child develop the ability to sort out the best course
of action. (I am not speaking here of infants, but of children from
say, school age upward ...) A child's inherent personality is in
reality much stronger and more well-defined than I had imagined, and
attempts to control it, or channel it into directions where it just
will not go, are doomed to bring disaster on all parties
But even though I have relinquished my desire to
'control' my children, and am content to 'guide' as well as I can,
this leaves me with some unsettling thoughts about the rest of the
environment, the 'everything else' that I mentioned. What if this
group is not willing to give up 'control'?
An example of what I mean, and the little event
that set this little train of thought off from the station, was a
visit to a restaurant the other evening. I had taken the girls to
their weekly piano lesson, and when they finished, we stopped off for
a bite on the way home at a Macdonalds near the music school. (Most
days we eat at home, but they are not so excited about my 'cooking',
and are always ready for a change, even if only Macdonalds ...) When
we entered, we stood back from the counter a bit, to try and organize
our thoughts about what to order, but one of the clerks beckoned us
forward, "Welcome. Welcome Can I have your order, please?"
There was of course, the familiar menu listing
posted up on the wall over the clerk's head, and in addition to this,
many signs and posters that advertised various 'specials' and
'bargains' were scattered everywhere in view. My young daughter Fumi
hesitated. It was all a bit too much for her to take in. The clerk
saw the hesitation, brought out a plastic menu card from somewhere,
and slapped it down on the counter, flipping it over to show that
both sides were full of information. Pictures of food, descriptions,
prices, were everywhere in front of Fumi's eyes. People lined up
behind us, and there was noise and pressure all around. The clerk's
impatience was palpable. I tried gently to make some suggestions to
Fumi, but it just became too much, and she caved in and started
crying. Her older sister Himi made her own order, I put in orders for
myself and Fumi, and then sent the two of them upstairs into the
relative peace and quiet of the seating section, to find a place for
us to sit, while I waited for the food.
Now I understand very well what little Fumi-chan
was going through at that counter, for I feel exactly the same
pressure in that situation, and I'm an adult! What is a little
nine-year old girl to do when faced with such a barrage of noise and
demands? Choose! Quickly! This one! That one! Choose! People are
The environment that surrounds my daughter is very
much trying to control the whole pace of her life. Somehow, the
'control knob' on the world has been set to the 'fast forward'
position, and we are all forced to operate at the same frantic pace.
It's not only in restaurants. I took them to see a new Disney movie a
while ago, the 'Aladdin' story, and was astonished at what we saw. Or
I should say, what we didn't see. Everything just went by us at such
an incredible speed, that I couldn't catch even half of the dialogue,
and the two kids were completely lost at sea. As for television ...
Well, I see enough of this in friends' homes occasionally, to know
that it's the same thing there, and this is one of the reasons why I
refuse to have one in my own home.
It seems to me that children growing up now are
being completely and totally manipulated by their environment into
this fast-paced way of living. Although in some areas there are
nominally other choices available, a slow-paced traditional Japanese
restaurant for example, instead of Macdonalds, in practice finances
just don't permit such options. The norm now, is just plain fast.
Fumi simply has no alternative to this. Whether or not such a pace
for life suits her inherent personality and abilities is of no
consequence. So while I as her father, am trying to avoid controlling
her and pushing her into unsuitable ways of behaviour, society as a
whole is not so forgiving. She will live this way!
Although in my personal life as a woodblock
printmaker, I have 'opted out' of this race, and try to live as
slowly and peacefully as possible, what can I do for my children?
Other than taking them away to live up in the mountains somewhere, I
don't see any way to protect them from this onslaught. And of course,
year by year, things only get faster and faster. I cannot escape the
feeling that our society is like some mad machine, spinning faster,
faster, faster, until one day it must inevitably fly apart in chaos.
But I must admit my kids don't see things that
way. When we came home from that restaurant the other day, the two of
them made up a little sample menu, and then practiced making
hamburger orders for a while! Next time we go, Fumi will probably be
ready to handle it ... I guess this means that she is adapting to the
situation, and will learn to live at this pace. I suppose it's better
this way, rather than living continuously with the kind of stress
that she encountered that day at the restaurant.
As for me, I'm just going to 'hide' in my
workshop, make woodblock prints, and avoid fast-paced, stressful
situations as much as possible. I don't even like hamburgers,