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Bringing up Bratty

Photograph by Veer

As is often the case after I read The New Yorker, I realize that my relationship with sophistication is about as close as a Kardashian is with an unplanned paparazzi photo. But that’s OK; sometimes I'd rather leaf through a Kardashian-staged, candid pictorial in Us Magazine than The New Yorker, which doesn’t even boast a regular two-page feature titled, “Pretentious People: They're Just Like Us!”

That I am unsophisticated became ever more clear after reading “Spoiled Rotten” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the July 2 edition. Kolbert tried to get to the bottom of why American kids are so spoiled. Six-year-old children in the Peruvian Amazon, she writes, catch and cook their own fish, and 3-year-olds use machetes to cut wood and grass. Kids clean up without being asked and prepare for a life of survival practically from birth.

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They are, in effect, the anti-Petunia.

Our daughter Petunia is nearly 4 and doesn’t angle for fish, but hunts dandelions in her never-ending quest to pluck every one that has or ever will grow. As far as handling anything with sharp edges, one time she dabbled in plastic scissors, but when she took that muted blade and trimmed wisps from our younger daughter’s head, we promptly confiscated them.

What I failed to read anywhere in “Spoiled Rotten” is how children in other cultures experience any emotional joy.

All the sophisticated New Yorker-types seem to foam at the mouth at people like Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. That French kids have impeccable manners is a selling point of life in France, apparently. They’re so well-behaved because they seem to be, essentially, heartless. French parents ensure at a young age that children know they are the apple (sorry, the pomme) of no one’s eye, and they will eat gourmet fare without uttering a word, making a face or demanding macaroni and cheese (quelle horreur!).

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Petunia’s dandelions make a terrible mess in the house, particularly since she tucks them into special (read: hidden) places to enjoy later. When I tell her to STOP PICKING THE DANDELIONS, she ignores me (the little brat that she is).

What I failed to read anywhere in “Spoiled Rotten” is how children in other cultures experience any emotional joy. While Petunia is prone to Veruca Salt-like explosive episodes, she always gets over the drama, and we spend delicious amounts of time giggling, kissing, reading and imagining.

It seems to me that love and affection don’t go hand-in-hand with raising tiny adults who never protest chores.

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If being coddled and indulged gives Petunia a sense of entitlement, it also gives her a sense of security. I want to raise her to be successful, and I’m trying to do that by just letting her be, and occasionally stumble and cry, but get comforted along the way. Believe me, she knows the word “no,” but she enjoys “yes” even more and is learning how to earn it as often as possible.

Everyone everywhere but here might be better. But we’re doing just fine in our house—rotting dandelions, unsophisticated reading material, Kraft orange cheese, shoe tantrums, butterfly kisses and all.

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