Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Proper Way to Raise a Child

For Russians living in North East Philly, raising a child is a magical thing.  A magical, but intense thing.

Ok, maybe not magical.  Intense is probably more along the lines of adjectives that describe this phenomenon. Intense with pangs of guilt, and judgey-ness.  Because you describe anything that happens in Northeast Philly without using the descriptor "judgey".

You see, my thoughts of childhood were always rife with memories of playing war in the backyard with the neighborhood boys, pretending I was treating a patient as a leading physician with the neighborhood girls, and living my life according to the tenets of Calvin and Hobbes before Bill Watterson even knew what a "transmogrifier" was.  I even played a version of Calvinball,but I called it "Billy-Ball".  Seriously.

But that's not how it works within the Russian Community.  You see, if you're a child being raised by Russian immigrants, your parents traveled across the entire world to give you a better life, and you'd better live that better life exactly as your parents dictate, goddamn it, even if you turn into a miserable wreck. It's a life-long guilt trip, and nobody does guilt better than Russian Jews.

As Sammy grows older, and discussions stray away from the consistency of his diaper droppings, the conversations are starting to get more centered around what activities we're going to involve him in. 

I'm the third one from the left.
My parents are advocating the position of the free range child - opening the door to the back yard and kicking him out until dinner time, and if he doesn't make it in for that, he'll make it back in for bedtime.  The more dirty, the more broken bones, the more trouble he gets into, the better.  Structure, for them, is bad parenting.  This is probably why I can't concentrate on anything for more than thirty minutes, and I've constantly got three hundred grandiose plans steeping in my brain matter - each one of them still on step 1.  This is definitely not an option, because I want Sammy to have at least some structure in his life.

But my in-laws are about as opposite as you can get.  Their position is typical of the entire Russian immigrant community: the more classes and extracurricular activities the better.  "Because WE never had these classes growing up, and we have decided for you that your future success will depend upon how many activities you've participated in before you graduated from diapers." 

This man is definitely not gay
So Sammy is in for it.  There are already plans for him to go to chess classes with a former chess grand-master, who will allow breaks from learning the Monkey's Bum Opening with mathematics tutoring. Apparently, Sammy will also be involved in dance.  I've been trying to compromise that if dance is a must, then let it be break dance.  How awesome would that be??  But the rest of the family wants either ballet, or ballroom.  "Look how far it got Maksim Chmerkovskiy!" is pretty much the best argument for anything, even those subjects not including dance.  There have also been long discussions over the optimum sport in which to participate.  Being a former swimmer, I suggested swimming.  But apparently, there's not enough strategy involved, and it has been suggested that Soccer would be a better choice. And over the summer, I've always dreamed of having a kid that went to Boy Scout camp, where he learned how to shoot bows and arrows, and build shelter from twigs and leaves, and not shower for a week.  But, there's a very good Science summer camp where he will be introduced to the basics of chemistry, physics, and biology.  Also, he must either play the violin, or the piano.  There is no room for argument there.

"BC" stands for "Birth Control".   
Maybe we should also get him some really awesome glasses too?  What the military calls "BC" glasses!  or perhaps a luxury pocket protector with matching calculator case!  They would be especially helpful on his trips to his math tutor's place!  Pretty much the only thing I'm 100% in agreement with is that they're also huge advocates of some kind of martial arts.  Good.  This way, when people who lived normal lives want to beat him up for being such a math and science loving tool-bag, he can protect himself better than resorting to throwing pawns at them. 

There's also the worry that if he DOESN'T do these things, all of the other Russian parents and grandparents will look down on him, saying "Oh, look at Sam-a-yul over there, who is already three years old and does not know how to do multi-variable calculus!  His family must not love or care about him.  What is he going to be able to do with his life?  He can't be a lawyer, or doctor, or financial professional, so he will obviously be a homeless drug-addict." 

Ahh, Northeast Philadelphia, if it wasn't for all the shish-kabobs and vodka, I don't know if our relationship could last.


  1. I'm a fan of structured, non-structured parenting. No idea what that is?

    Me neither.

    I think its alternate name is Fly-By-Seat-Of-Pants-Parenting.

    So far, so good.

  2. This is one of your best posts yet. (I think I say that every time.)
    The captions are killing me.

    Is it bad if I say Maxim kind of looks like you?

    "What is he going to be able to do with his life?" He can sell cell phones, variable mortgages, or work at a nighclub/Netcost.

    Also, Sammy should probably never meet Mr. B. A couple months ago, his 9-year-old cousin was trying to figure out how to multiply something and he ended up teaching her Base 10 through a series of Socratic method questions about Martians. I had to take him out of the room because she was almost crying because she didn't understand imaginary numbers.

  3. It sounds to me like martial arts is a MUST.

    Great post!!

  4. My son is a future geek by nature. He would make your in-laws proud. Violin lessons are to be at grandparents, just ask Marinka.

  5. Alex doesn't do a lot of classes. That shit is expensive.

    I mean....I believe children should have freedom.

  6. Ah, grandparent parenting. That's always a good time.

    My immigrant parents & family are kind of the opposite, in that WE didn't have these types of activities in the old country, what do you need them for? Yeah. Good times.

    That being said, a class or two to keep your kid out of your hair during summer? AMAZING.

    PS Reading via email is SO MUCH EASIER ON MY EYES.

  7. Oh yes, a MAKS PICTURE...You've made my heart skip a beat this morning, so thanks for that.

    I have to say, I didn't grow up doing anything..well, dance and piano, but I was told that anytime I wanted to stop, I could stop. I can't imagine being into lots of things for Luke, either...so yeah, I agree with Allison....fly by the seat of my pants parenting ;)

  8. I'm pretty sure we could arrange for him to enter basic training around age 4. Then we could enter him into a really scientific MOS...like coding. Which pretty much comes with BC glasses...standard issue. There is hope for him yet.

    For the record, I was free-range and I turned out just fine. I mean...after I changed colleges twice and majors 9 times. Absolutely fine.

  9. This is hilarious - We're going to have the same problem, except I'm the Russian Jew in this case, and he's ridiculously laid back and American.

    But I gotta point out, about that mentality, it has some basis... I moved from country to country every year and a half on average, I've lived in over 12 countries, as my family tried to get residency or citizenship anywhere (but most countries don't want more Russian new immigrants), I know exactly how it feels to not be allowed to work in places, for school to be a difficulty, and for the University of my choice to be an impossibility. We're going to move to Florida after we get married, on the (god willing) Green Card, but without that? I'd still be stuck here, with no rights at all.

    My partner has never had to experience this, will never know how terrifying airports and immigration can be - and hopefully neither will our daughter. I will probably go overboard on trying to get her to do things, because my parents (due to their parents high expectations) where pretty much like 'do whatever you want, don't bring the cops home, and make sure you get all A's in school'. How you achieve any of this is your problem, but as long as school was good, they where not interested.

    No structure is just confusing for children, I'll try not to push too hard, but when I think of the things I couldn't do and still can't do, despite my mother's best efforts to give us the best life possible, it's hard to not want to shove them into every single activity you can find, cause you can.

    Plus, we're Russian, and Jews, I gotta impress my grandma damn it.

  10. PS: That gay looking man in the picture? That's just a Russian in a nightclub. ;)

  11. Thankfully, I chose the broke hippy over the wealthy Polish American boy I had my eye on. Seriously.

    So, instead of the Polish school on Saturdays, Polish girls scouts, violin and soccer that I amd my family want for our children, my girls will be lucky to take up Ballet. At the local Park center. :/ Maybe.

    With the other girls who already rock Hannah Montana shirts, wear makeup and can't wait for their boobs to come in so that they can look sexy in their bikinis at the age of 8.

    Oh, and they will also be taking cheerleading classes so that they can jump around in tiny outfits with oversprayed hair cheering on the boys. :/ Maybe, if my husband gets his way.

  12. My kids are definitely going to become homeless drug addicts. They don't go for any classes, not even kindergarten. We homeschool, so I get to teach them the best drugs to choose ;)

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