While sitting on the sidelines of my 4-year-old's soccer game this Saturday, I was eavesdropping on two moms talking. (Yes, I was eavesdropping. And don't pretend like you don't do it, too.)
I was fascinated by how the conversation developed. It went straight from "Hi, I'm so-and-so" and "Which is your kid?" to "Well, I do a curriculum with him at home, and it really is the most sound of all those available out there."
Curriculum? At home? How could you be talking about curriculum when you just met? I mean, you just met! What happened to the weather? Nice shoes? How long has your kid been playing? You know: small talk?
This mother went into an incredibly detailed and lengthy explanation of all of the curricula she had purchased for her 4-year-old and how long she spent researching the different ones out there and how they use a phonics one and a math one and a thinking one and it's all very organized and structured and scheduled throughout the day.
Now, I'm a teacher. I've been one for 13 years. I even have a background in early childhood. I take education quite seriously. I know all about curriculum. I know the importance of a good foundation. My kid is in preschool. But there was something about the way this woman was throwing the word "curriculum" around when talking about her 4-year-old that made me want to cry. Her face was pinched. She was very serious-looking. Focused. Intense. Kinda scary. Something told me that this little boy wakes up every morning with his Mommy to face a day filled with objectives and word lists and tasks. There was no mention of library time. No talk of snuggling with stories. Museum visits. Coloring. Play. But that c-word came out at least 8 times in 3 minutes.
I don't understand these parents. It's almost as if parenting has become a competition. I know women who started looking into preschools when their kids were infants, for fear of being left out of "the good ones." I've been warned that if I want my kid to be able to compete in sports, he has to start soon. He can't miss a season. He can't try other things. He needs to "specialize." I know parents who are running their children ragged with schedules fuller than their own: ballet, violin, karate, tutoring. There is no time for play. There is no time to just exist. Parents are raising their children to live the same kinds of hectic, harried lives they do.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I had read about playing classical music for my growing baby. I was skeptical, but as tired as I was, I'd use any excuse to sit around, a set of stretched out headphones on my belly, rocking some Baby Mozart. I figured, it couldn't hurt, right? But now, I've seen ads in magazines for stuff categorized under "prenatal education." Are you frickin' kidding me?!? I thought that woman on the soccer field was bad; you can buy a curriculum for your embryo!
I just don't understand the urgency, the stress. "I just want to give him every advantage possible," I heard her say. The other mom nodded emphatically, and I wondered if she was thinking 'I wish this woman would let me watch my kid play' or 'I can't believe I am so behind on little Johnny's curriculum!'
My question is: An advantage over what? The other 4-year-olds in the block center? Or does she think that somehow, this magical curriculum she is using now will get her kid into the best college?
I want my kid to be smart. I want him to do well. I want him to get ahead in life and be successful. But mostly, I want my kid to be happy. And nice. Is there a curriculum for that? 'Cause I figure I have plenty of time for academics and instruction. Right now, I want to make my 4-year-old laugh and play and learn about how not to hurt other people's feelings and how to make friends and how to be a friend. I want to read the next chapter in his latest superhero book at bedtime and watch him as he figures out that if his little brother gets 2 of his cookies, then he is left with 2 also. I want to be his Mommy. I do not want to be his teacher.