Eight eggplants, five dozen little tomatoes, twenty peppers, and a watermelon. Not a bad harvest for one afternoon. Admittedly a little straightforward financial accounting would suggest that the watermelon alone cost some two hundred dollars to produce—not including principle, interest, taxes, or insurance on the property in which the eye-catching fruit was fabricated. Bags of dirt, expensive fertilizer, disease resistant on-line seeds, and chicken wire for the delicate plant to climb on all contributed to the expense. And no, I’m not including the extensive labor of a sprightly 67-year-old man who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.
There’s something primal for me, growing my own food, feeding my family with salads from the backyard, providing for my progeny with the fruits (and vegetables) of my labors. Admittedly, the kids are grown and gone with jobs and gardens of their own. And the crops together wouldn’t provide sustenance for more than a few days out of the year—it took hundreds of tomatoes and most of the afternoon to produce two 32-ounce jars of sauce—but still.
People talk about how much “better” everything was generations ago, a slower pace of life, polite, respectful children who were “seen and not heard,” people growing their own food. I have no insight into whether my grandfather was deferential to his elders. I do know that he didn’t have to worry about being run over by a bus as motorized transportation wasn’t a thing when he was a kid in the 1890s. By the time the first bus came around in 1921, he was already married. There were concerns other than burgeoning vehicular homicide: no penicillin or antibiotics until the 1940s, an infected wound could kill you. And epidemic diseases were, well, epidemic. A vaccine for polio wasn’t invented until 1955, mumps killed children until 1967.
What do moms and dads have to worry about in 2023? Watermelons and tomatoes routinely show up at the market independent of the weather. To take nothing away from the sting of an insensitive remark, bullying, and social media viscousness, loving parents have fewer deadly diseases with which to concern themselves. Parents can help their kids with being ostracized from a group chat—do the words “no, you can’t have a smart phone until you’re older” resonate with anyone? Parents can help kids process a rejected “promposal” in a way parents could not help with measles or rubella a century ago.
Parents can also help with the wound of kids being rejected from their first-choice college by communicating that “you are still the academic star you were before you got the denial letter” and pointing out that where you go is not as important as how you do.
How could the choice of an undergraduate institution compare to the choice of buying medicine for a sick child or paying the heating bill? How could being “forced” to attend Emory rather than Duke be as meaningful as deciding whether to emigrate, believing that another country might be safer.
Could it be said that some parents today are “starving at a banquet”? Because they have nothing to complain about, they complain about nothing. Could it be that in our evolutionarily adaptive environment, there was a selection bias for worry that, like our atavistic appendix, is no longer necessary for survival?
Would it be too much to suggest that the time to worry about where your child will matriculate is never, that good students will do well where ever they go. And that your time with your kids could be better spent having them help you harvest a two hundred dollar watermelon?