ou are not what
you own." That
bumper sticker, on
the rusted fender of an old Volvo, hit
me between the eyes as I walked to
the last of five baby showers, (yes, five)
for a friend who was being fruitful and
multiplying. I wanted to scratch out the
sweet nothing I'd written on her gift card and scribble instead, "You are not what you have." I was sick of
buying her presents, anyway.
This is not a condemnation of my pregnant friend, or of children, but an observation on
the latest out-of-control trend in excess among people who can afford excess. The adoration of
rich offspring has become an industry in itself, with enablers galore who seductively feed the
addictions of the acquisitive. What I see more often than not, though, is little "Madison" or
"Jacob" at their birthday party, sitting in the corner with their imported nanny, who is called
their "caregiver," but who in fact is actually raising them. They look across the tables of catered food,
and piles of presents, at Mom and Dad, wanting only some love from them. "Mom, I don't want a
Louis Vuitton backpack for school" a 12 year-old daughter shrieks at her mother with me in the
room. "I told you! I want LL Bean! Can't I please just have what I want?" The mother fumes to
me, "She's so ungrateful. What do I do?" I look at the cool but unwanted article in question and
volunteer, "I'll take it."
But here's the thing, and you don't have to be a parent to get this: children are not a means to
an end. They are the whole package, with unique personalities and needs and wants. They are not
status symbols, a social advantage, an excuse to work the other parents on the sideline at soccer
games or a reflection of your power - or lack thereof - because you could, or could not, get
them into the school that you felt would most advance your business and social
ambitions. If you indulge them enough, they will become like the eighth grader who, when admonished by a teacher
in science class for calling another student a word he shouldn't have, shouted back: "You can't tell me
what to do. My father paid for this science lab!"
I could fill pages about clothes, allowances, cars and other perks, but it's the "right school" phenomenon
that most spirals out of control in this town.
Another true-life moment: the "Smiths" have three lovely children - two older girls and a
younger boy. They are attractive, interesting, lively and loving young people. Any parent would be
proud. But little Gregory Smith didn't make the cut at a lofty local boys school last spring, and the
father said to us, "I can't help it. I'm so damned mad at him. I know I shouldn't be, but I am.
I actually can't speak to him." I asked my dear husband with the two law degrees, "Would I go
to jail if I kidnapped Gregory?"
Funny that soon after, my dinner partner was the headmaster of that same school, where the
application rate is fifteen to one. Perhaps because I am without children in the pipeline, he felt
comfortable to let down his guard. "You wouldn't believe the admissions process," he spilled. "The
degree of coercion, manipulation and influence peddling that goes on would get an elected official
thrown out of office." I asked him to what ends will a desperate but well-connected parent go?
"Would you believe we get letters from Supreme Court justices recommending nine year-olds for
our fourth grade?"
Mention the words "Bar" or "Bat Mitzvah" to managers of our bigger hotels, and you will hit
the jackpot of parental indulgence. The cost can start at half a million. At a recent Four Seasons
Bar Mitzvah, when the big band was momentarily hushed and the hired Redskins and Wizards
stepped aside, and the grown-ups in black-tie and ball gowns took their seats, the father made a toast
to his son. "My dear boy, you should be grateful to your mother for your being here tonight, and not
only for the act of birth. Before I even laid eyes on you, she sent a message out with the nurse: Call
the Four Seasons immediately and book Saturday night for 13 years from now."
I say good luck, children, and you better hope the well doesn't run dry.
Readers wishing to get in touch with Michael can
email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org