by Amanda Parry
I wish strangers would stop trying to teach my kids stuff.
It would be one thing if it were useful information, such as “Your mom is always right” or “If you invest in gold, buy into an exchange-traded fund, preferably one that generates dividend income.” But no, the guidance offered by strangers tends to be weird and useless, such as the elderly lady at the mall food court telling my son that Jesus wanted him to finish his lunch. (I told him Jesus didn’t care, but the dessert fairy would be pissed.) Or the guy who said hi to my kids and then told them, “You shouldn’t talk to strangers.”
But the worst offender by far is our local YMCA.
Where I’m from in Chestnut Hill, YMCAs are pretty much secular recreation and sports centers. I didn’t even know the “C” stood for “Christian” until I was 23.
But here in the South, where I now live, YMCAs are for “mind, body and spirit,” and dammit, they take that spirit part really seriously.
Example? There is a portrait of Jesus Christ at the gym entrance. (Not on the cross or anything. This is a Protestant shop, thank you very much.) It’s actually pretty brilliant motivation, not that he’s particularly ripped or anything but because he is the poster messiah for being in pain but not giving up.
You can almost hear his voice when you’re working out:
“Hey, don’t worry if you want to skip a few reps. You’re obviously tired and a little sore. I mean, I was pretty sore when I was NAILED TO A CROSS to redeem your WORTHLESS SOUL for ALL ETERNITY, but that’s cool. Sit down. Take five. Need some water?”
But even worse than having Jesus in the gym is a practice our local YMCA has called “Thought for the Day.” Printed on tiny strips of brightly colored paper, “Thought for the Day” falls into the category of religion-meets-self-help. “Thoughts” in the jar for adults have Bible verses. Those in the jar for kids have little pieces of advice.
It’s either a cute idea that’s been crappily executed or a crappy idea that simply can’t be redeemed. There’s no one-size-fits-all advice you can give children. For one thing, they are all so different. For another, their levels of comprehension vary so much.
Even if there were, it has yet to make its way into the hands of the “Thought for the Day” authors, as you can see from the following actual “thoughts” brought home by my children:
“Determination is the highest quality of successful people. I am successful. I follow the rules and try to make my school a better place. I never, never, never give up. I keep trying until I achieve what I want.”
Do I really want my kids thinking about being successful at their age? Having success at little things is OK, such as tying their own shoes. But successful? They’re 6 and 5. They don’t need to be thinking in terms of external measurements of self-worth. I’d settle for them not picking their noses and wiping it on the curtains.
“I never, never, never give up.”
Never, never, never? What if your goal is driving your parents mental? Could you please give up?
“I do not make fun of other children because I don’t know what their life is like.”
OK, but what if you do know what their life is like and it’s pretty great? What if you know for a fact that their parents are loving and supportive and that they live in a nice house and have enough to eat every day and STILL act like assholes. Can I make fun of them then?
“Smiling is contagious. I smile at everyone. I smile at the bus driver, at my teachers and at people on the street. When I smile, others usually smile back.”
Ringworm is contagious, not smiling. You know what smiling is? It’s an invitation to child predators. Dammit, YMCA.
“Before I buy something, I ask myself ‘Do I really need it’?”
This is by far the worst piece of advice I have heard. Ever. A skilled shopper knows you buy it because you think you like it and don’t know when you’ll make it back to the store, and what if you wait and someone else buys the last one, or the store is blown up? You buy it, leave it in the bag and after a few days or months decide whether you need it. If the answer is no, you return it.
Maybe you should stay out of the retail advice business, YMCA, and stick to the stuff you do know. Like Jesus. And Zumba.
“The more I share with others, the more I have for myself.”
This one’s just wrong. If you have five donuts and you share two of them, you are left with three donuts. Three. Three is undeniably less than five. There’s really no way around this one, YMCA.
If you’re going to go with the “It’s a metaphor” defense, then that’s even worse. My children don’t always understand the concrete, let alone the abstract. I already have enough trouble explaining to my daughter why she can’t use the urinal like her brother, so please don’t add to my load.
As you can see from these examples, having generic advice for kids is pointless. If the folks at the YMCA really wanted to make this work, they would allow parents to pre-print their own strips of paper and hand those out.
I already know what my first thought would say. I could even make it religious: “Every time you sit on your sibling’s head and fart, Jesus throws up a little.”
You’re welcome, YMCA.
Amanda Parry, 38, grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Germantown Friends School from kindergarten through 12th grade. Amanda is the mother of two special needs children: a 6-year-old son with autism and a 5-year-old daughter who has developmental delays due to an ongoing battle with cancer. Amanda started the blog UnexceptionalParenting.com to let off steam. She lives in North Carolina. Her parents, George, a former federal prosecutor, and Natalie, still live in Chestnut Hill.