So much for the dog days, Wunderkinder

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, August 13, 2008 |

About halfway through yesterday's run I looked down and realized that in this unusually cool August weather I'd dressed my children like castoffs from a Wes Anderson movie. The whole pink cowgirl thing came about because her entire closet is monochromatic and her Nana bought her that hat at the county fair and her current favorite record is the one with cowboy songs that I have to sing every night before she'll go to sleep. Duh. I am afraid I am solely responsible for the little retiree plucked away from his afternoon shuffleboard game in Sarasota for this photograph. He had to take a nap before that early-evening canasta tournament, anyway, plus I believe he needed a change of undergarments.

The thing is, I hate Wes Anderson movies (and not just because I'm supposed to like them). I particularly hate that one with the Wilson brothers and the quirky costumes and the shimmery vintage-pop soundtrack and Bill Murray. . .


. . .the one with all the former child prodigies? I don't care at all for stories about child prodigies---no matter how quirky they might be. The tortured former child prodigy is as much a Hollywood cliche as the hooker with the heart of gold or the unattractive Jew who wins over the shiksa bombshell with his acerbic wit. I pretty much loathe former child prodigies. I never enjoyed J.D. Salinger's lesser works, even though some people have gone so far as to name their children after his annoying whiz kids. I have never been all that impressed by 8-year-old chess geniuses, precocious preteen spelling bee finalists, or 3-year-old North Korean xylophone prodigies. I don't care that Mozart was composing operettas while his colleagues were still shitting their pantaloons. I do not think the stories of child prodigies are inspiring, endearing, sad, tragic, or interesting in any way.

I try to imagine how many "child prodigies" have languished in normal childhoods because they had the misfortune of being born to parents who never encouraged them in some singular esoteric pursuit. And how many potentially brilliant young beekeepers never found their calling because their parental oppressors kept them too busy with violin lessons? Inevitably, every child prodigy stops being a child and suffers a fate of normalcy. Unless he continues to perform at a prodigious level above his peers as an adult, there's really nothing all that special about him, is there (other than the fact that he was once a child prodigy)? And really, who wants to hear about all that now that everything has evened out? Shut the fuck up about it already.

Consider young Richard Sandrak. After a steady diet of testosterone-flavored gummi vitamins provided by the two cruel Visigoths he considered parents, 5-year-old Sandrak and his soloflex physique did the Povich-Jones-Montel circuit as "Little Hercules," the world's strongest preschooler. Now he's sixteen and looks like the drummer for Ukrainian Hanson. In five years when he's just another musclebound narcissist chugging protein shakes outside the Pasadena Bally Total Fitness, do you think he's going to get laid by telling chicks he was once Little Hercules? Unless he dons a lionskin, destroys a hydra, and fetches an apple from the garden of the Hesperides, I don't think he's ever going to get laid.

Consider also today's news that 8-year-old blues guitar prodigy Tallan "T-Man" Latz may no longer be able to play in bars and clubs because of child labor laws. What business does an 8-year-old have playing the blues anyways? Did a bully steal his lunch money? Did somebody poop in the gated-community swimming pool? What business does an 8-year-old have making that face? Or wearing those sunglasses? Sorry T-Man, I guess it's time to write the Wisconsin State Equal Rights Commission Blues. It could be all about those spoiled 6-year-old coal miners and oyster shuckers back in the olden times responsible for these ridiculous child labor laws. In twenty years I hope you're more than just another loser in a Sheen-shirt playing Satriani covers in a strip mall bar & grille and singing songs about your glory days as an 8-year-old blues-rock phenom. But I wouldn't bet on it.

I'm pretty sure that neither one of my children is any kind of genius or prodigy. For one thing, I never bought them any of those Baby Genius DVDs. I don't drill letters or numbers into their heads. I once tried to show Juniper how to spell 'cat' with some foam bathtub letters but she just showed me how to make the letters look like an actual cat. Kind of. We have no French au pair for full immersion language acquisition: just me (and today Juniper asked me what 'ain't' means). But if I were to discover, say, that my son was some kind of handball wizard or my daughter a theremin virtuoso, I would probably hush it up and not make a big deal about it. I wouldn't do this out of concern for the loss of childhood or the pressures of fame. I would do it to save them from the inevitable turd of having to tell everyone they meet in the distant future that they were once child prodigies, or god forbid, "gifted and talented."

I mean, they're going to have it hard enough as it is. Just look at their clothes.