“It’s like I’m living in a television sitcom,” I said to my brother on the phone last night. “One of those bad family-oriented sitcoms where the kids get into amusing kinds of trouble.”
“What are you talking about?” my brother asked.
“We have a problem,” I said. “It’s a silly kind of problem. A sitcom kind of problem. But it’s also absolutely, deadly serious.”
“What is it?”
“Peanut’s been going these last few weeks to a town-sponsored day camp, and most days she comes home upset that people have been teasing her.”
“Now, to my mind, the teasing has been quite mild. For instance, yesterday some of the kids were calling her ‘Mary Poppins,’ because Peanut was carrying an umbrella. I mean, yes, the kids should have stopped when they saw she didn’t like it, but it would also be nice if Peanut had a greater resistance — or any resistance at all — to that kind of thing.”
“Sure,” said my brother.
“Well, tomorrow is the last day of camp, and they are capping things off with a talent show. At first, Peanut didn’t want to go because she didn’t want to be teased anymore, and my wife was absolutely fine with that. But now Peanut has decided she wants to go, because she wants to show off her talent.”
“What is her talent?”
“Are you sitting down?” I asked.
“Uh-oh,” said my brother.
“This is her talent: She is going to balance a spoon on her thumb.”
“A spoon,” my brother said. “Allrighty.”
“So here’s our dilemma. We can let her go to the talent show and balance a spoon on her thumb. The kids there will react in one of two ways: They will either be bowled over by her adorable seven-year-old sincerity and they will give her a rousing round of applause, or they will outright laugh at her. I really have no idea which way it will go. Our alternative is to keep her home — to say to her, you cannot go to the talent show and perform this trick, because we are afraid you will come home emotionally hurt.”
“You can’t do that.”
“No, we can’t. I can’t, anyway. My wife can. She has bad memories of her own childhood teasings, and if I’m nervous for Peanut, my wife is downright scared. But I don’t want to raise Peanut to be afraid of taking risks like this. It takes guts to stand up in front of a crowd and do something silly. I want Peanut to have those guts. And if the kids laugh at her, well, we’ll just have to deal with that if it happens. But it would be worse if we stepped in and said… what, that’s not a good enough talent? We can’t let you do that? I can’t say that to her.”
“Anyway, I say to myself, what possible talents are the other seven-year-olds going to have? Is someone going to get up there and sing an aria? No. Peanut will be fine. We have to let her do this.”
“And so tomorrow, I get to sit in my office thinking all day: Is she balancing a spoon on her thumb? Did it happen yet? How did it go? That’s going to be my day.”
“I guess that’s being a parent.”
“I seriously do not know how I’m going survive her teenage years. All this emotional churning, and what are we talking about? A day camp talent show!”
Postscript: This morning, Peanut upped the ante by balancing two spoons, one on each thumb. Strangely, this made me feel a lot better about the act. I tried convincing her to balance a third spoon on her nose, but she thought I was just being silly.