01 April 2004

Some kids need Quiet, some kids need Storm

Before I actually had a child, I was of a mind that they were born blank slates and that they were totally shaped by their environment. (This idea was probably a hold-over from my youthful indoctrination into communism.) About two weeks after my first child was born, however, I realized that my little Pumpkin had a personality all of her own and that I couldn’t shape her into an ideal Soviet Man, Modern Enoch, or whatever your ideal might be. I could only help her to become the Good Pumpkin, or the Bad Pumpkin, but she would always and only be Pumpkin.

After I had a second child I realized that, because Pod-Man was a different person, that I would have to treat him differently. He needed different things, must learn different lessons, responded to different incentives, and annoyed me in an altogether original way.

This caused a good deal of trouble, as my kinderen would frequently feel short-changed when they became aware of these differences and could point to my sister-in-law who scrupulously treats her two daughters exactly equally. None-the-less I stuck to my guns. Again and again I explained to them that Pod-Man got tickets to the opera because he was a born connoisseur, but that only Pumpkin could be left alone in the house because she was my responsible girl, and that Bean-Girl needed more alone time with Daddy because she was my shy girl.

They never bought it.

Finally an incident made my ultimate fairness clear to them. Pumpkin had to read Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front for her High School English class and write a paper on it. She was at a loss as to what to say or write, so she asked me. I tried to draw her out by asking “Well, what’s the book about?”

“It’s stupid! It’s just about how war is stupid!”

“Okay, Erich Maria Remarque was drafted into the Great War and saw all of its futility and carnage. But Ernst J√ľnger volunteered for war, became commander of a shock battalion, and wrote about how he loved war in Storm of Steel. Why don’t you read that and write a paper comparing them?”

She was baffled, “What’s to like about war?”

“Well, Junger said that ever-afterwards he only felt really alive when actually in combat. He said that ordinary life was tedious, and that only warfare drew upon the total man. He said that the comradeship formed among his fellow soldiers in the trenches surpassed any other human connection, even that of marriage. He writes about being under barrages as though they hold all of the excitement of a roller-coaster. He makes trench-raids come to life like an adrenaline rush. The affection of a comrade for his buddy, their devotion to one another, their willingness to risk all, makes mere romantic love seem pale and life-less ...”

As I was describing this, Pod-Man came over. At last he exclaimed, “Wow! I want to read that book!”

“NO!” I poked him in the chest, “You need All Quiet on the Western Front!”

This was so self-evident that it became a catch-phrase around out house. Anytime one of the kids objected to the way we were “favoring” one of the others, all I have to say is, “No, Pod-Man needs All Quiet on the Western Front.”

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