Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don't Fence Them In: An Imbecile's Guide To Parenting

Trees are like children—you'll stunt their growth if you keep them in the cage too long.

If you're a person in possession of those funny creatures known as "offspring," you likely feel a very strong drive to protect them. But if you lack an actual family, (or a menagerie of cats to fawn over), and especially if you’re the sort of person whose screws are on the “Not So Much” end of the tightness spectrum, you can instead direct your protective impulses toward a specimen of sidewalk-dwelling flora—like a tree! This sounds far fetched, but it's really quite common; for some background you might peruse my previous posts on the subject, found here and here.

Whatever the object of your affections, parenting is a wonderful and rewarding experience, to be sure. However, even in the case of non-sentient plant life, eventually you have to let your little ones go.

On a recent perambulation I discovered this pitiable sight: a majestic hardwood still in the clutches of an overbearing caretaker—note the tiny steel fence that is barely able to contain its leafy ward any longer. Now, we've all seen, and at times experienced, overprotective parenting; but who knew it was possible to humiliate a tree? A sight like this—a plant so large that it dwarfs even a mighty sport utility vehicle, still encircled by a protective Smurf-sized fence—this is like insisting your son wear his stripey scarf and beany-hat when it's cold out—even though he's a partner at his law firm.

"Ma, please, I'm a grown tree!"

"You'll always be my little sapling."

I was tempted to fetch a pair of bolt cutters in order to liberate this penned-in perennial, but it's best to stay out of family squabbles. Plus I didn't want to embarass the poor thing even further by drawing attention to its plight (which is why I waited until it was looking the other way before snapping this photo).

Speaking of off-kilter parenting skills and holding on to your wood too tightly, there was recently an adult-sanctioned young-people's sporting match of a vaguely pornographic nature held here in New York City.

Exactly what sport is this? "Stick ball"? "Palm Piloting"? "Tugby"?

While at first glance this may appear to be a rather sordid sort of sporting event, it turns out there is an explanation beyond such prurient presumptions. What we have here is in fact the Quidditch World Cup, held at Manhattan's Dewitt Clinton Park earlier this month. (For more of those oddly disturbing images, see here.) Quidditch, of course, is a fictional athletic team sport in which the players fly around on magic-powered broomsticks, as described in the Harry Potter novels. Or at least it was fictional; now college students across the country have created a "real world" incarnation of this sport (assuming you can consider anything that goes on at college campuses to be of the real world).

I saw several local TV news stories about this Harry Potter-inspired event, and I was surprised to find that amidst all the coverage there was not one juvenile joke made about the blatantly phallic overtones of so much grabbing of crotch-rods (whether magically endowed or not). It is very commendable, the tasteful restraint and good judgment of our local news media—a group apparently operating at a lofty strata of journalistic integrity that is well beyond my capacity to reach (though maybe if I learned to fly on a broom I could have a chance of soaring so high.) Pole-handling aside, in the various news broadcasts there wasn't even a hint of derision for any aspect of the proceedings, despite the fact that this tournament consisted of post-adolescent young people wearing capes and running around, hobby-horse style, on straw brooms. And that struck me as quite odd, since local TV news teams are about as likely to pass up an opportunity to make idle banter and unamusing jokes as I am to decline a platter of Circus Peanuts.

Gratuitous marshmallow candy photo

After giving it considerable thought (which in my case required several days, and the neglect of other important tasks, like cleaning behind my fingernails with my lucky toothpick, or attempting to break my personal Circus Peanut mouth-cramming record) I've determined that the most likely explanation for that staggering degree of journalistic restraint is that adults are actually afraid of kids like this. Undoubtedly nerds like the ones who participated in this Quidditch tournament excel at all things geeky and technical, and in the post-Columbine, internet age of malcontent-hacker forums and terrorist chat rooms, people have finally learned that it's not such a good idea to further alienate kids who are a little different; if young people want to express their lingering adolescent urges by pretending to be wizards and holding dowels of empowerment between their legs, and if that makes them feel like they're part of something which doesn't happen to involve trawling the internet for instructions on making explosives out of Miracle Grow, then more power to them.

Ultimately, stifling a kid's urges towards fantasy is about as productive as caging a tree. Kids who endure that kind of overprotection (so I've heard) are more likely to develop obsessive behaviors, like watching endless hours of local TV news while stuffing their mouths full of (delicious) orange marshmallow treats. And nobody should end up like that.

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