"What comes after one?" asked the mother, pushing her 3-year-old on the swings. He was too busy laughing to answer, so she was forced to repeat, "What comes after one?"
"Two," he mumbled, looking off at the climbing structure.
"Good. What comes after two?"
"Now what comes after three?"
"What comes after three?"
"Now what comes after four?"
And here is where I fell in love with the boy. He glared at his mother and blurted, "Orange!"
Can you blame him? Who wants to do math drills when there's swinging to do and monkey bars to climb and popsicles to eat and, oh, you know, childhood to have?
Kids aren't the only ones rebelling. Contrary to what you might read, there are parents out there who don't hire bilingual nannies or fall to pieces when their kids brush up against a non-organic toy. Let's call them Beta Parents. I am one of them. I let things slide. My kid eats floor food. Sometimes we go an entire week without going to a class. I have barely begun his application to MIT.
Who are my fellow Beta Parents?
Beta Parents don't spend $2,000 to prep their 4-year-old for tests.
Beta Parents don't try to engage their children every second of the day. Sometimes they leave them alone with a crayon, a piece of string and a cardboard box.
Beta Parents let their children eat processed cheese.
Beta Parents own televisions.
Beta Parents don't do their children's homework.
Sometimes Beta Parents miss bedtime and are inconsistent, because human beings are inconsistent.
Beta parents don't hide Vitamin A-rich pumpkin purée in the pancakes, nor do they make "cupcakes" out of cantaloupe with "frosting" made of beet-based food coloring and Greek yogurt.
Beta Parents don't have air purifiers, and if we do, we forget to change the filters.
Beta Parents don't read parenting books -- except maybe Go the F**k to Sleep.
Beta Parents don't subscribe to a particular philosophy of child-rearing. Beta Parents aren't even always Beta Parents. Once in a while we're Alpha Parents. Sometimes we're Omegas.
Beta Parents aren't lazy, selfish parents; we just don't think it's healthy for children to be the center of the universe at every moment or to feel pressure to succeed while digging in the sandbox.
Here's a radical thought: What if we all worried about making our children into good people, instead of successful people? And what if, instead of turning them into little bonsai projects, we let them grow a little wild?
Beta Parents, unite! Our kids have nothing to lose but their third homes in the Hamptons.
Visit Jen Nessel's Facebook page for Goodnight Nanny-Cam, the book on modern parenting she co-authored with Lizzy Ratner.