This past Sunday, like so many Yale students, I dined with my family. We had brunch at a place called Dakota — a sprawling steak and surf house decorated rustically in traditional Native American style. That is to say, when I looked up from the urinal following my third glass of grapefruit juice, I stared into the glass eyes of a stuffed Kodiak bear who wore a sign around his neck that read: “Eyes Forward, Chief.” It was a lot like the Mohegan Sun Casino, with less gambling and more lobster.
Working steadily away at my second mound of bacon, I was suddenly unsettled. I could feel the little eyes boring a hole in the back of my neck. I spun in my chair, my bacon flying into the lap of a senior citizen across the room and my eyes locking with the rosy-cheeked 4-year-old boy staring me down. I was immediately disconcerted.
And then he laughed his little laugh and it cut me to the core.
I swooned, exhaling my mouthful of bacon all over my lap.
I can’t wait to have kids.
OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. I can’t wait to have A kid. One ought to do it for me really, unless I get bored with just the one and want to have something for him to fight. In which case I’ll consider bringing another son into the world and setting up a round-robin tournament of some sort.
First, naming the kid will be a blast — so much so that I will not include my wife in the process at all. No, I’ll hog the naming all to myself. And I won’t settle for just a first, middle and last name, either. I’m thinking a whole sentence.
“I’d like to introduce you to my young son, Greg Yolen Is Awesome Yolen. People call him Greg Yolen for short.”
“I’d rather be called Awesome Yolen.”
“Go to your room, Greg Yolen Is Awesome.”
“No he’s not!”
I love my parents a great deal and appreciate the way they raised me, but with all due respect, I’m going to do it all differently.
For one thing, reading — I read too much as a child. I got too smart too fast. Now, at age 20, I am smarter than I will ever be. I know everything in the world, for no reason other than my mother’s insistence that nightly TV time be balanced with reading time. I’m not even old enough to drink alcohol, and I’m already too jaded to get out of bed for my 9:30 a.m. Italian section. (Or at least that’s the excuse I’m using this week.) If only my innocence had been not lost so long ago, somewhere in between “The Runaway Bunny” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” I might not have to vent all my vicious sarcasm into this column.
As a student, I do understand the merits of reading, and so I will make a compromise.
Rather than banning books altogether in my household, my children may only read novelizations of major motion pictures, even if those major motion pictures are themselves adaptations of staples of the Western canon. The originals are off limits. Only after being filtered through Hollywood convention will my child be allowed to read “The Scarlet Letter,” for instance. That’s not getting anywhere little Marfo Yolen, unless it’s got Demi Moore on the cover.
My parents did not raise me religious, and for that I am thankful. They let me decide for myself what spirituality I would invest my faith in — and aside from a brief flirtation with Taoism in eighth grade, I’ve remained happily agnostic. The downside of this non-religion, however, is simply all the time it consumes. I sit around for roughly two or three hours every day contemplating the substance of a higher power — MAN does that cut into potential work time. Or worse, TV time. And when I DO reach a satisfying conclusion, I’m usually so depressed that I can’t even enjoy the most simple-minded of sitcoms.
But I have no intention of passing this burden of enlightenment on to my children. I imagine that when it comes time, I’ll pick a religion at random and impose its strictures onto every aspect of my child’s life, if only to save them the time of choosing what they want to believe later on down their lifeline. The religion itself doesn’t matter to me, nor will it matter to my child. As far as they’ll know, it will be the one true faith. They’ll accept that as fact, even though I just chose the religion by spinning a Coca-Cola bottle in the middle of a circle of various holy scriptures. Let’s go, Torah! Papa needs a new pair of Jews!
My secret to parenting, in case you haven’t divined it yet, is to keep ’em stupid — because the smarter you are in this world, the more frustrated you get. I’d rather watch my kid play on a level playing field with all the rest, even if they can’t understand the game. At least they’ll have fun throwing the ball.
And if young Charismo thinks that it’s learning that’s fun, just like all the rest of us Yalies did when we were his age, then I’ll let it be. But not without fair warning that this world is a pretty stupid place sometimes. And when in Rome, do — uh — something stupid.
I’ve given a lot of thought to my children. To say it’s a preoccupation of mine would not be an exaggeration. My biological clock is ticking down faster than Dick Cheney’s pacemaker. Clearly, this isn’t normal for a boy of my age and propensity for hard drugs.
Perhaps it all stems from the recent realization that I’m more than halfway done with my college career — the four years that Dean Brodhead promised would be the best of my life, and which have, thus far, lived up to the promise. It sends me reeling to think that I’ve been here two years, and that in two years I’ll be gone. To be honest, it doesn’t do any less than frighten the living shit out of me.
Better to distract myself with thoughts of the distant future — plans for a family that I may or may not have — than to face the reality of the present.
Greg Yolen was born to run.