I had an epiphany this week while standing in front of the organic meat case in ShopRite: No matter how it’s sliced, bacon doesn’t really come from the supermarket. Whether it’s a pig, a cow, seven whole grains on a mission, or a scientist at Kraft who works with that orange powder (Look for my forthcoming piece, Dying for Mac & Cheese: the extreme sport of food science). The truth is that something or someone had to die so I could live. Despite all the fancy packaging, super-marketing, and propaganda to disguise this fact, dress it up, and convince me otherwise, there’s no getting around reality. Bacon happens.
Let me explain
My oldest child is about to enter the age of “this will look good on your transcript.” All around her the pressure has been mounting. Grades, activities, sports, music, charity, leadership—more and more I’ve been hearing these words batted around the carpool lane along with, “Which high schools are you applying to? Or are you just going to go public?” The “Tiger Mothers” are on the prowl, and I gotta tell ya, the livestock is lookin’ nervous.
At first glance, the goals seem positive, loving even. We only want our children to be well rounded or pointy, as they say in admissions department, to be really good at lots of things or the absolute best at one thing. We believe that’s the route to the best high school and the best college, and eventually the best job, partner, house, etc. We gave our children the gift of life, and we want that gift to be the best. (By definition a gift that includes suffering, failure, defeat, humiliation, pain or death is pretty crappy—as in Christmas stocking-filled with ebola-crappy.) It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and we don’t want our children to end up as bacon or whatever the hell is in Beggin’ Strips.
But despite Stephenie Meyer’s claim in Twilight, pain-free immortality doesn’t come with an Ivy League diploma. (For the Twi-challenged, Edward wanted Bella to go to Dartmouth BEFORE he turned her into an immortal.) Plus I called Dartmouth admissions. And guess what? Not only does bacon happen, it happens even to the best of us.
From farm to circus
Every afternoon the roads are filled with our SUVs and minivans, all stuffed like clown-cars with nitrous-powered rollerblades, harpsichords, flaming juggling balls, heli-skis, string theory textbooks, kids and parents all jumping through the same flaming hoops because somehow we’ve all gotten it into our heads that life in the circus is better than life on the farm.
But is it?
A life dedicated to the entertainment of the mob is, at best, a soulless existence. (Watch Gladiator if you don’t believe me.) And at worst, it’s a lifelong exercise in physical and psychological torture. (Google Michael Jackson for more info or click his name to link out to the NY Times article on his death.) And if that doesn’t deep-fry your Twinkie, let’s consider what happens to the animals who can’t jump any more or won’t. Hint: it involves the purchase of a farm where the slops are laced with Propofol.
So if the farm and the circus ultimately bring us to the same savory end, why do we do the things we do? For love of the activity or in the name of some misguided delusion that bacon only comes from the pigs who didn’t apply themselves? I have to ask myself:
- Is my son practicing his accordion 19 hours a day because he loves carnival music and dreams of having a monkey crap on his shoulder while strangers throw coins at him on a subway platform? Or is it because music helps with math and will make him well-rounded?
- Is my daughter beating the snot out of her accordion-playing brother because in addition to that God-awful music, he makes burp and fart noises in the background whenever she FaceTimes her BFF? Or is it that Harvard has an obscure female boxing team and if at 5’ 2” she can throw a punch like Manny Pacquiao, she’ll be pointy?
- Are my children skipping recess and gym to take astrophysics and quantum mechanics because they’re Star Trek-obsessed and hell-bent on building a warp drive engine in the backyard out of spare lawn mower parts and an Ironman nightlight? Or is it just to show an admissions committee that they’ve been ready for college-level hoops, I mean work, since grade school?
In all cases, I hope it’s the former, but I’m mom enough to admit it’s probably the latter. And so the time has come to strip away the wrapping that makes life seem so rosy and perfect and consider what I’ve really given my children.
Take away the lovely packaging and super-marketing about what might be, and we’re left with what is, i.e. the present. Children shouldn’t be round or pointy because life will never be smooth enough for them to roll or shoot through it with ease. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.
Bacon happens, so Mama’s gonna teach you to fry eggs!
*She seems to truly enjoy hitting her brother, so that will no doubt continue.
For more on this topic, check out Excellent Sheep: the miseducation of the american elite and the way to a meaningful life by former Yale professor William Deresiewicz
(Originally published and reposted from http://www.parenthoodnj.com)