Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Borg

The family has been watching Star Trek Voyager, and we recently watched an episode from Season 6 entitled "Child's Play." At this point in the series, the crew of Voyager has liberated four children of various races from the Borg, and Seven of Nine has been assigned to look after the children and help them adjust to life on Voyager.

For those who are not Star Trek fans, I should explain that the Borg are a collective of humanoids who are mentally linked, technologically-enhanced, and constantly assimilating more species in order to add to their biological and technological "perfection." In short, after being essentially a half-robotic bee in a hive, it's hard to learn to think and act as an individual. That is Seven of Nine's story arc, and at this point in the story, she's trying to be a governess, because that's part of every woman's evolution, right?

Sorry--it's easy to fork off into feminist diatribes when discussing women in Star Trek.

There's a main plot to this episode, which is interesting, but what caught my attention was the side plot in which Seven of Nine is shown interacting with the children. She has learned that children need a variety of activities in order to thrive, including opportunities for education in multiple subjects and frequent play periods, and so she has scheduled exactly that, down to the minute.

It's meant to be funny, and it is--this idea that a Borg who is an expert in astrometrics and hand-to-hand combat and engineering doesn't understand play--but in 1999 it was only that. Now, it seems so much more. It seems like a parody of our educational system.

In 1999 it seemed like only a Borg could be so ridiculous as to think that all children needed was lessons that could be quantified. It seemed like only a Borg would think that every second of a child's time could and should be scheduled. That only a Borg would expect children to have fun in prescribed ways. And all of those ideas are meant to be utterly ridiculous--the comic relief in an episode about ethics, culture and the essence of parenthood.

What have we become?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Updated Parenting List

This morning I posted this list of things every child should learn. Here are some updates, courtesy of Facebook commenters.

  • My cousin Zviah pointed out that I got the whole idea from the Talmud, which says that every child should learn to read, learn a trade, and learn to swim. 
  • From Heather, I'm adding change a tire and pump gas
  • Crick wants me to add grocery shopping. I'm just adding that to "cook a meal." While I think it's great for everyone to learn lots about produce, and my own kid works in our garden and accompanies us to the farmer's market frequently, I don't think it's absolutely necessary, beyond what one needs to cook the things one knows how to cook.
  • From Devon, I'm adding vote, hold a baby, and make a budget. 
  • Another comment from Devon made me realize I had left out reading. Reading! Of course. It's one of the original three, after all. 
I'm going to go back and update the original list. Thanks for the comments!

Here's the Job

Parenting is a complex job, no question. You're trying to get to know a little person who keeps changing. You're trying to help her grow into a capable adult who is competent, secure, and unique. There aren't really rules for parenting. Every day is different.

However, there are certain things I believe every child should learn before she is launched into the world on her own. Here's a list of those things:

  • Sew enough to fix a loose button or torn seam
  • Use a hammer, screwdriver, wrench and drill 
  • Assemble Ikea furniture
  • Cook a basic meal, including grocery shopping
  • Read a recipe
  • Do laundry
  • Clean a house
  • Transplant a seedling
  • Drive a car
  • Swim
  • Balance a checkbook
  • Change a diaper
  • Write a thank-you note
  • Read a map
  • Ride public transportation
  • Take a taxi
  • Iron a shirt
  • Care for a pet
Updates from comments (click here for sources):
  • Change a tire
  • Pump gas
  • Vote
  • Make a budget
  • Read
Of course there are people in the world who can't learn these things, but these are the skills I think adults need to take care of themselves. If you can do these things, you aren't dependent on other people. You may choose to outsource any or all of these tasks, but if you know how to do them, you have the option to downsize, to live on a budget, to be on your own. And that means freedom.

Don't get me wrong--I hope that Boo grows up to be prosperous, and that her life is full of love and people upon whom she can depend. But everyone I know enjoys doing some of these things. Knowing how to do them allows one to avoid being scammed when hiring others. And if she ever does get into a situation that's bad--if she's suddenly without money, if she needs to get out of a bad relationship, if she finds herself lost in a strange city--she'll be able to fix it herself.

To me, that's the job of being a parent. My mother calls it "planned obsolescence." But I think it just feels a lot better to know how to do things. When I met people who went to college without a hammer, I was shocked. When I hear about adults who don't know how to do laundry, I judge their parents. Because this is the job.

What have I forgotten?