I enjoy talking with kids (sometimes). I will usually talk with them about school, because I like to know what they’re studying and how the education process has evolved since I was a child.* They always seem fascinated to discover that I still remember the topics that they’re learning, as though it provides them with reassurance that what they’re learning now will someday be of major importance in their futures. I am (and always will be) a huge proponent of education. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever said, “Gosh, I really wish I didn’t know about so many things.” I mean, I wish I knew everything about everything. I’ve always said that if I get the opportunity to learn something I don’t already know, I’ll take it. If you tell me that we’re going to spend Saturday dismantling and rebuilding a carburetor, I’ll ask when and where do I show up with beer … because it’s something I don’t know how to do, but someday might need to know.
* Have you seen the way kids are taught math now? It’s flat out odd. My little cousin showed me a few years ago. The only specific thing I remember is that the new method appeared to take longer to solve equations than I could do in my head. For example, if the problem was to multiply 150 x 5, they wanted the students to multiply 100 x 5 to get 500, and then 50 x 5 to get 250, then add the two products to get the answer of 750. To me, this seems like more work than simply multiplying 15 x 5 to get 75 and then throwing a zero at the end.
Anyway, I have two young patients that are currently in middle school, and I truly enjoy when they come in for appointments, because they’re at the age when they’re actually past rudimentary subjects and are finally studying real topics. We talk about history and important pieces of literature and they ask about science and what they’d need to study in order to pursue different careers. Today, I asked them what they had planned for their weekend and they told me that they have a lot of homework, which included an essay on Hitler. (She incorrectly called him Alfred Hitler, which makes him sound much less scary.)* She asked me, “Why did Hitler do what he did to the Jews?” For the first time in a long time, I was stumped as to what to say.
*Incidentally, does anyone else wonder what Hitler was like outside of his desire to conquer the world? I do. I sometimes wonder if he had a sense of humor. I’m sure there are anecdotes and stories about his personality somewhere in the annals of history, but I’ve always been curious. I know he was an artist, and I’ve seen some of his paintings (which are far better than anything I could do). But it’s interesting to think that no matter what we may ever learn about his personal life, he will only be remembered for his brutal, despicable actions in WWII. We could learn that he rescued stray dogs, mended the broken wings of birds, and helped old ladies across the street, but he’ll always be an asshole.**
**Also, even though it’s an ugly mustache, I do feel bad that no man can ever shave his facial hair into that design ever again. Hitler has ruined the toothbrush mustache forever. Poor Charlie Chaplin – he wore it, and entertained millions, but it is always called the “Chaplin Mustache” as a second to “Hitler Mustache”. Although it’s worth noting that Chaplin and Hitler were born 4 days apart and Chaplin ultimately played a spoof of Hitler in a comedic role in The Great Dictator (1940), which actually led to his decline in popularity, even though the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.
Now it’s worth mentioning with utmost clarity that I am in no way, shape, or form condoning any of his actions in WWII. I find it completely deplorable. My problem in answering was that I wasn’t sure whether I should delve deep into history and provide the girls with important facts or let them do the research themselves. Ultimately, I decided that the best answer given the time constraints (I had a new patient about to come in) was, “Because he was a completely insane man who felt that everyone who wasn’t German was less than perfect and he wanted the world to be perfect. So he felt it was his duty to exterminate anyone who wasn’t to his liking.” Is that a perfect answer? Far from it. But it seemed to satisfy them for the time being.
But then I got to thinking. How would I have answered that question had it been posed by my own child? I honestly don’t know. Should the day ever come where I do have a child of my own (and that day is becoming less and less of a reality, but that entry is for another day), I would no doubt expect my offspring to possess the natural desire to obtain information independent of my answers. But I know they’ll eventually ask me. And I’m curious how I’ll answer. This goes beyond any questions about Hitler, mind you. I’m talking about questions in general. I was a very inquisitive young boy, but my mother always made me look up the answer to every question I asked before she would give any additional input.* I will definitely be that type of parent, but I’ll want more out of my child. I’ll want them to look up additional theories and get as many viewpoints as they can. (This does not include conspiracy theories, although I will admit that for a split second after she asked me the question about Hitler and the Holocaust, I thought about the answer that would have been given had she asked Mel Gibson’s dad instead of me. But if my child comes to me with even one ridiculous conspiracy theory, there will be hell to pay.)
*Another thing that is becoming increasingly depressing is that many of my patients are beginning to show me just how old I am. I’ve already explained to several that when I was their age, only about 5 or 6 students had cell phones, and maybe only 15-20 more had pagers, and that the early beepers didn’t allow for text, so we had to come up with numerical codes to express thoughts, like “143” for “I love you” or “58008”, which was “BOOBS” turned upside down. They can’t believe that I had to look up information in encyclopedias at the library because the internet had not yet been fully implemented. And they were completely shocked to learn that I was already in medical school by the time Facebook was created, and in the beginning, the website was only designed to be accessed by college students.
I don’t know what kind of parent I will be. I’ve written in the past about how I’ll be a strict disciplinarian, but I am very afraid that I will unintentionally place undue pressure on my child to be (almost) as smart as me. I have always had a fear of having a child that doesn’t WANT to learn things, that is content with just getting by, that doesn’t want to work hard. I’ll admit, I sometimes had the same attitude. It was a curse in a way to be given the gift of a great memory. I could very easily sit in a classroom, not take any notes at all, barely pay attention, and walk out remembering at least 90% of the information without ever needing to read it again. That number decreased as I aged, which may have had a part in me developing this desire to read and learn as much as possible, and to study more. The older I became, the more maturity I developed, and the more I realized that education and knowledge is everything. I want that desire to be instilled in my children. I want them to ask questions, but I want them to have the inherent ability to seek out information without being told. I hope they’ll read, and that they’ll desire a healthy dose of fiction and non-fiction. I want them to be better than I am now, learn more skills, have more talents, and be more well-rounded.
I don’t envy parents in my generation. This is a society that rewards laziness and punishes hard work. It is becoming increasingly evident to children in their teen years that if you complain enough, you can get things for free. They see that if you don’t feel you’ve been treated fairly, you can sue. When I was growing up, if I told my mother that a teacher yelled at me, she’d say, “Well what did you do?” And she NEVER sided with me. The teacher was in charge, I was there to listen and learn and behave. She would even tell the school nurse on the first day of school that she was to never call if I complained that I was sick. Mom would say, “Unless he’s throwing up or has a fever, don’t call me. He’s probably faking.” (She provided me with the work ethic I have now. To this day, I’ve yet to ever call out of work for being sick.) If I said something wasn’t fair was, the response would be, “Life isn’t fair. You need to get that through your head if you want to succeed in this world. People will try to undermine you or knock you down and you can’t let them. Don’t let failure dictate who you are. Let your response to failure dictate that. But things will not always come easy, not for you. Work hard. You’ll be a better person if you do.”
I hope if I have a child, they at least learn that.