This happened several weeks ago, and I wasn’t even around for it. Yet it’s somehow stuck with me, and I’m trying to figure out why.
My wife did the evening pickup from school and stopped at the playground. It was a warm August day, and our boy made his usual beeline for the fountains, edging right up to the spray to cool off but not quite jumping in, as is his habit. (Or was, till this weekend’s chill.) Another, older girl, maybe 3 or 4, was there, and stuck her hand over the sprayer, spattering him. My wife (nicely) asked the little girl to try not to get him wet, whereupon she turned to her nanny, who was sitting nearby on a bench. The girl was clearly unsure of herself—had she done wrong? Was she going to be scolded? Was it okay even though she’d been a little careless? It was clearly a teachable moment. And what did the nanny say to her, after a long, hanging pause? “You just keep having fun, honey.”
[Ed note: No, you can’t ever be 100 percent sure it was her nanny. But enough socioeconomic signifiers were on view that you’d have come to the same conclusion.]
I’m ready to call the game for that little girl—to see her, 25 years from now, as the young and obnoxious boss I never want to have, or the bratty entitled assistant I want even less. “You make your own monsters,” my mother is fond of saying, and to an extent I believe it. A lot of rotten people are created.
But what makes me think even more about this exchange is that it wasn’t a parent doing the enabling. It was a hired caregiver. Are the parents horrible narcissists, who would encourage such things? Are they good people who have no idea what sort of tiny-scaled rogue-nation-building is going on? Maybe they’d be horrified. Maybe they’d be proud. Either way, that nanny clearly thinks of her job not as developmental character-builder but as clock-puncher, getting her charge through the day with the minimum of effort and maximum of crowd-pleasing. It’s a culture clash, between parents like (I daresay) most Dadwagon readers, who are likely to believe in raising good citizens, and someone who doesn’t give a damn about that.
It makes me grateful for at least one aspect of a day-care-classroom environment: checks and balances. It’s a lot harder to brush off larger responsibilities when there are other teachers, supervisors, a roomful of children, and a couple of dozen parents involved, any of whom could, in theory, stop by any moment. I’m sure our school has its own failings, its own weak spots, its own moments that would make me cringe if I were present, but I bet that sort of lazy approach to child-rearing is kept out of the place by the group dynamic.
I know, I know, this moment probably added up to absolutely nothing, in the end. But it still bothers me, weeks later.