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By Jessica T

A Plague of Miracles

Uploaded: Jan 14, 2014

Hi Readers,
I'm on a "work vacation" this week. I promise to explain what that is when I'm back. In the meantime, I'd like to introduce you to a guest poster: my very own husband, Coach T. I hope you enjoy a new perspective from the "10 to Twins" household. -- Jessica T

Over the holidays, during a visit to relatives in the New York area, I took my ten-year-old daughter to see the new Broadway musical "Matilda." The show is based on the 1988 novel by Roald Dahl, about a preternaturally intelligent girl born into a family of morons. It is a faithful adaptation, with one noticeable addition, an update that I feel Roald Dahl would have added himself, had he lived to observe parenting in the year 2013.

The show begins with a song called "Miracle," in which a chorus of British-accented schoolchildren trade boasts about their unique qualities. But don't take their word for it: the opinions come straight from their parents.

One girl sings:
My mummy says I'm a miracle
One look at my face and it's plain to see
Ever since the day the doc chopped the umbilical
It's been clear there's no peer for a miracle like me!

Another character presents us with the logical conclusion of this kind of parenting:
My mummy says I'm a precious barrelina [sic
She has never seen a prettier barrelina
She says if I'm keen I have to cut down on the cream
But I'm a barrelina so GIVE ME MORE CAKE!

Do you know any kids like this? Want to bet their parents call them "miracles" too? To my ear, the writers of the Matilda musical captured perfectly a couple of early-twenty-first-century cultural trends: positive parenting and the Lake Wobegon Effect. The two are related, of course. No one wants to believe that their children require correction--for if they require correction, they must have done something wrong, and that's just not possible...because they are exceptional. (Every one of them.)

A passing familiarity with statistics suggests that this is impossible. To be exceptional, your child must be compared against ordinary children, and I have not met any ordinary children in years. Sometimes I feel as though I'm trapped in a cult of excellence, where every child, at the risk of expulsion from the group, must develop at least one or two exceptional talents. Besides traditional favorites like chess, trumpet, and ballet, we also have, in our nerdy neck of the woods, prodigies in math, robotics, and computer programming. God help the child who just likes to play dolls. (But wait...maybe at age eight she has already started a toy company with funding from Sand Hill Road...Wait, she hasn't? Well, there must be something else?)

Or maybe not. Maybe she's just average, or what we used to call normal. Normal used to be a compliment. Parents used to pray for normal, well-adjusted children. And research suggests they were correct. A recent analysis of longitudinal studies (studies that follow a study group from birth into adulthood) suggests that personality traits are just as important as cognitive ability and socioeconomic status in predicting a successful adult life. By "personality traits" the researchers are referring to things like humility, self-control, and kindness. In other words, character. (Thanks to Dr. Leonard Sax for highlighting this research.)

So if not miracles, what should we call our kids?

My mummy says I'm well-adjusted
Humble, kind, and able to delay gratification!

Good advice, I guess, but they'd have to give back the Tony Awards.

--Coach T