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Why Does It Bother Us When Our Kid Is Basic?

Photograph by Getty Images

My son was sent home with his "letter of the week" bag in preschool and the letter of the week was F. "What should we put inside it?" I asked my kid and the answer was inevitable:

"A firetruck!"

Obviously. Why did I even bother asking? My kid eats, breathes and lives everything fire truck related, and I love it, except for the fact that he wanted to put one in his letter bag. It just seemed so obvious, so… basic. I had a sneaking suspicion that every kid was going to put a firetruck in the bag and so I felt compelled to put something different in there, at least for the teacher's sake, so she wasn't extracting 12 firetrucks from 12 paper bags.

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"How about this cool fan instead?" I asked my kid, showing him a large painted fan my cousin has brought home from China.

"No, I want a fire truck!" Paul said.

"How about both?" I asked.

"Maybe," he said. I ended up putting the fan in the bag and decided that since the small fire truck has a siren button, the teacher would probably prefer that we skip a noisy toy.

"Thank you SO MUCH for putting that fan in the bag," Paul's teacher told me the next day. "What an amazing, unique idea! So much better than all those fire trucks." No wait. She didn't tell me that. Because it was a fan in a paper bag. Not nuclear fission.

Maybe as long as we're honest about the fact that it's about us and not our kids, it's okay.

At least I know I'm not alone in caring too much about trying to steer my child towards different ideas. My crafty friend Julie told me about an ongoing argument she was having with her 10-year-old son over what to dress as for Halloween. She wants him to be Beetlejuice so she can create a costume for him. Instead, he wants to be a video game character.

"It just KILLS me because I like to think I'm creative and have good ideas," she says. "But at the same time it's so much work just to convince him to wear the costume, let alone make it, and I'm like, GOD WHO EVEN CARES?!"

I get it though, because I care. I came from a mother who cared. For school science fairs I wanted to do a fun exploding volcano or an experiment to determine which detergent was the best. My mother suggested, instead, that I explore photosynthesis, and helped me train a plant to grow through a cardboard maze that she/we made. In retrospect, this was her project while she let me assist/think it was my idea/synthesize the findings.

Kids can be wonderfully creative in their own little worlds but when it comes to choices that involve peer pressure they often have, in my opinion, basic-ass taste (not your child, of course!) Whatever it is that most of the other kids have, they want, and marketers have figured this out. Kids don't wear "Frozen" or Ninja Turtles shirts because they like the aesthetic—it's just what all their friends (or the people at Target) have chosen for them.

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Sometimes it's just easier to let kids go with the flow because in the grand scheme of things it's exhausting to convince a small person to wear or eat or watch or do something that they deem uncool or obscure or not worth the effort.

But at other times, maybe because we're controlling, maybe because we're showoffs, maybe because we're insane, we push our kids to do something a little less predictable and popular. Is this wrong?

Maybe as long as we're honest about the fact that it's about us and not our kids, it's okay. Or maybe we just want something different to look at besides fire trucks, video game characters and volcanoes.

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