I like to think that I rank somewhere above average on an imaginary parenting curve, and that Samantha will be better off for it. But apparently I needn’t bother, at least according to the authors of Freakonomics, the book I mentioned finishing earlier this week. The economist authors spend one chapter reporting on the use of regression analysis to find out if parents really matter when it comes to predicting a child’s future success on achievement tests.
The answers, it won’t surprise you to find out, are surprising. Apparently all of the things that matter about me and Geralyn are already pretty much set in stone or amino acid –the way our DNA zigs and zags, how educated we are, who we chose to marry, how affluent we are, and the like. Other parenting practices that we’ve been so faithfully following don’t really matter nearly as much –how much we read to Sam, keeping our family whole, moving to a nice suburban neighborhood, and more.
So great. According to these guys and their New York Times best seller, Samantha is all set to roll down through a deep groove to whatever has been destined for her. Nothing I do matters. I’m reminded of late-night conversations I had with grad school colleagues about determinism and fate (which is probably another predictor of your kid’s success). If everything in the universe behaves and reacts according to the strict laws of physics, then is there any such thing as free will? As Keanu once famously muttered, “Woah.”
But after a bit of thought, it’s not all that bad. There are other outcomes that matter besides scores on standardized tests. Sam’s moral character, her happiness, and her health are all things that Ger and I can influence if we’re lucky, diligent, and don’t threaten to murder Elmo over failed potty training. I’m also comforted by the same facts that put the brakes on those distant discussions of determinism: There’s a schism between the physics of large objects and physics on the subatomic level. Quantum physicists can’t necessarily predict what say an electron is going to do between any two instants. So maybe there is some randomness in the universe and Keanu was wrong when he also said that God doesn’t play dice. Or maybe it was Einstein that said that. I forget.
In other words, there’s still hope on the subatomic level that Sam will turn out to be a criminal. So, yay?
Anyway, to clear your palate, here are some cute pictures.
Something very significant happened at exactly 3:18 p.m. on Sunday, October 16 2005, around the time when most of the pictures in this set were taken. Sam and I were playing at the park, the first time I had been able to do so with her in a few weeks. That whole “voluntary control over limbs” thing had finally gotten to the point where she could really play on some of the playground equipment. In particular, I had taught her to climb up this one 50-degree ramp by pulling herself up by rails and putting her feet on the strategically placed footholds. Once up on the equipment, she’d run over to the slide, skitter down, then run back around to the ramp to repeat the process. She must have done this like 20 times in a row while I watched.
But then, right at 3:18 p.m. (I know, because I glanced at my watch when it was over the same way I had glanced at it when she was born), Sam turned and locked eyes with me. I think that right then, at that very instant, she began the transition from baby to little girl. There was (or I just then noticed) a quantum leap in her physical coordination, her posture was more erect and confident, and there was a burgeoning intelligence in her eyes that hadn’t been there before. After a second or two she gifted me with a smile and ran over to the slide to continue her newfound routine.
Now to be sure, I’m not yet walking her down the aisle or sending her off to college or bailing her out of jail (the latter thanks to some quirky quark). It’s thankfully going to be a long transition. It’s just like when you first notice the sunrise if you’re up early for some reason. The sky is still dark and you can’t even see the sun yet, but the eastern horizon is starting to glow just slightly as it turns from black to white or orange. You just know that things are starting to change.
In a way, that look from Sam at 3:18 p.m. made me happy. In a way, it made me sad. It made me sad because I love her just the way she is and she brings me constant joy. Why would you want to mess with that kind of arrangement? But it made me happy because she has so much potential, she will do so many great things in her life, and she will make me even happier. And I don’t need an economist with his regression analysis to tell me that.