September 15, 2013
My daughter recently experienced the best day of her life.
Ally (Laura Marano) from Disney Channel's "Austin & Ally" was in town for a radio promotion. My daughter got to embrace her tightly and answer her questions breathlessly and gaze at her lovingly for a full three minutes, which was long enough to sanctify the day as holier than all the other days in her almost 8 years of living.
It's fine. Really. It's fine.
I mean, would I prefer that she anointed a more sentimental day as the best one ever? The day we spent searching for turtles in the pond at Indian Boundary Park? The day we went around buying Happy Meals, kept all the toys and handed the food out to homeless folks? Or the day her brother was born?
Well, sure. One of those would be nice.
But even stacked one on top of each other and plopped on a pedestal, those moments don't measure up to Ally's teeny-tiny frame.
I get that, I guess. But I hear from so many parenting experts that a rich, happy childhood is born in the small moments that I fret at how much more enthusiastic my kids are about the big, flashy ones.
"Simplicity Parenting" author Kim John Payne once told me, "When you ask people their favorite childhood memory, no one ever says, 'That time we went to Disneyland.'"
I don't know. My kids really like Disneyland.
Am I doing something wrong?
I called Wendy Mogel, who always makes me feel better about my parenting. Mogel is a highly respected clinical psychologist and author of a couple of best-selling parenting books, including "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" (Scribner).
She says things like this: "Disneyland is exciting because the rides make you feel like you're going to die, and then you don't. The brain loves that. It's dopamine."
See? I feel better already.
Still, Ally did not make us feel like we were going to die. She was just adorable. (And, more important, famous.) I don't think I can credit her appeal to dopamine.
"Meeting Ally is the coolest thing that ever happened to your daughter," Mogel says. "It will not be her favorite childhood memory."
And we're sure of that because …
"I've interviewed many, many adults about their favorite childhood memory," she says. "Not one single person has ever mentioned a celebrity. With stunning consistency, the memories involve water, danger, fried food and dads. 'We were at the beach for days with no sunscreen and very little supervision, but my dad was there, and he got us fried clams from the clam shack.'"
And time, of course.
"The gifts of time and attention and listening elevate kids and make them feel joyful and respected," Mogel says. "Definitely keep bringing Happy Meals to the homeless. Take your kids into nature. Do things that are kind and necessary and help balance the scales of justice, but don't try to convince your kids it's the best thing that ever happened to them."
And don't try to convince them that Ally isn't.
"Spoilsport parents want to downplay the cheap, shallow things kids love," she says. "Don't turn her excitement into a teachable moment, 'Well, I hope you realize we can't do this kind of thing all the time!'"
So what I'm hearing is that I need to relax a little about having fun. I need to give them my time and fill it with things that will enrich their lives and make them laugh and make them think and, hopefully, make them good, kind humans. And I need to remove myself from the subsequent ranking of said things.
I like that formula. It's logical.
It's also liberating. Because it leaves me plenty of energy to convince my kids that, whether we're scouting for turtles or narrowly averting roller-coaster-induced death or chatting up a sunny, smiling Ally, they're by far the best thing that ever happened to me.
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