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Faster! Faster!


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 life.

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 concerned.

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 waiting. Faster!

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, anyway!