In honour of the not-so-well-adjusted kids

Oh, the dreams you have for your children when they’re newborn. This wonderful unique little creature is showered with wishes that it will be happy, kind, funny, intelligent and do great things. The biological stimulus for wanting to have children is largely based in our urge to continue our genetic line, to pass on ourselves to future generations. And once they’re born we also want to pass on our values, our best traits, our passions, possibly leaving out the bad stuff (both my big nose and my messiness they would probably be better off without).

My eldest had this “look” – this penetrating, attentive stare, that several of my more new-age oriented friends defined “that of an old soul” even before she was a year old. And off I went, already projecting her towards a great political career, or maybe a visionary in some other field. Yes, I did smile at my own stupidity, even at the time – I’m not quite the helicopter-mom type (or at least I don’t see myself as one).

As they grow older and you as a parent get socialized into the parenting culture, you realize there’s a lot at stake. In order to insure the best brain development, good test scores, a healthy body, great social abilities and popularity among their peers, there is no end to the things you’re supposed to be doing. If you want your kid to keep up with the Jones’ kid, your days turn into an obstacle course and a battle ground, because the natural slowness of kids doesn’t go well with a strict schedule of appointments and classes.

I didn’t really get into that race, mostly because I’m a sidetracker, and was too late at signing my first up for baby swim-lessons (later I discovered this was just as well, as chlorine inhalation facilitates the development of asthma). Then, by the time she should have started ballet, her younger sister was born, and the jealousy made her want to be around me ALL the time, so ballet was out of the question, and from then on I just stopped trying.

Whatever our level of expectation and involvement as parents, our guiding principle seems to be dream of the “well-adjusted kid”.

And what’s wrong with that? Doesn’t everybody wish for their children to be employable, well-liked, full of the knowledge society demands, reasonably cultured, well-dressed, healthy and with a healthy body image?

The other day I came a cross an websites with the works of Caravaggio, where on of his many works on John the Baptist shone from the screen. The picture is magnificent and at the same time troubling, and departs completely from the common imagery surrounding the ideas I have of the life of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist, Caravaggio 1604 He has a look that I recognize: the look of the not-so-well-adjusted kid. There is an anger and  a defiance in him. He’s looks nothing like the dream a parent has for his child when s/he’s born. Thinking about the role he has in the Bible, I expect this image of him of be pretty truthful. John is someone who doesn’t want to adjust to what he sees as the superficial aspects of life. He’s a rebel: he doesn’t dress according to custom; he’s searching for his own way; and he is deeply critical of society around him.

Caravaggio manages to do some of the same with St. Francis, that we are used to seeing with a divine shine about him and a facial expression as if nothing worldly ever enters into his mind. Caravaggio’s Francesco is nothing like that. He is a troubled human being staring death in the eye, looking for meaning. We know he left his good position, money and went to live in poverty, as an outcast from the society of the well-adjusted. We know that even within his group of friends he fought any attempt of his followers to become part of the religious establishment, to form a monastic order (something that eventually happened after his death).

St. Francis certainly didn’t fulfill his parents’ dreams. His family wanted him to go to crusades in the hope of being knighted, but even when he went to The Holy Land during the Fifth Crusade, he didn’t participate in the blood-shed or legitimize the crusaders, but instead held peace talks with Sultan Malik Al-Kamil. The two talked of war and peace and faith, and when Francis returned home, he proposed that his Order of the Friars Minor live peaceably among the followers of Islam–a revolutionary call at a moment when Christendom pinned its hopes for converting Muslims on the battlefield.

Unfortunately, the times were not so well-adapted to Francis’ ideas either, and 3 more Crusades followed after Francis’ death, creating the backdrop for much of the lasting problems between the Muslim and Christian/Western world.

The well-adjusted rarely see fault with the world they’re so much a part of. The well-adjusted never become revolutionaries, visionaries, they never make radical choices or become too deeply worried about the future of our planet.

Madoff would have been considered a well-adjusted person; St. Frances wouldn’t.

The CEO of BP is probably to be considered a well-adjusted person; the protesters gathering to protest the violent capitalism of the G20 nations – not so much.

Maybe we should learn to embrace the quirks and awkward bits in our children a bit more. Accept their exaggerated sensitivity, their teenage protests. Maybe the ability to accept and adapt to the status quo, and to keep yourself from crying at the trouble in the world, isn’t so much to hope for after all.

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~ by Hege on June 11, 2010.

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