I like strong-willed children. I believe they will go far if they’re not hanged. It’s my bias, of course. I was known to be a kid who followed the rules, but in fact I was a kid who broke the rules whenever they aggravated me. I just didn’t get caught very often.

It’s easy for me to say I like strong-willed children because my wife and I chose not to have children. I don’t have to do battle with an unruly kid every day until he goes to college or goes to jail. I’m being kind of presumptuous, really. But when I see a little kid who knows what he wants and creates hell on Earth to get it, I don’t think to myself, “There’s a bad kid.” I think, “There’s a parent who’s slacking off but is still a better parent than I would be.”

Some of our friends tell my wife and me that we should be parents. I love these friends the way I love people who believe in world peace and unicorns. I would probably produce clever little thugs with a dubious neurological heritage, and after the first time our toddler snottily defied my wife I’d be driving to prison for conjugal visits. I’m pretty sure that’s an exaggeration, but I wouldn’t bet my soul on it.

Yesterday we visited with friends who have two little boys, about elementary school age. This is the age when most boys should be thrown into an iron box and fed through a slot. They were among the most well-behaved children I have ever met. Their parents released them unsupervised into the wilderness of a toy store while we chatted, with only the words, “You may each get one thing.” Then they ignored their boys, except occasionally when one returned for guidance on something he was considering.

Half an hour later each child had chosen one toy and presented it with boyish, wiggly excitement. As the clerks checked us out they kept talking about how nice and polite the boys were, as astounded as if they’d just seen vermin build a suspension bridge. At lunch the kids ordered with articulate, polite efficiency. Later we walked around the mall full of insanely enticing childhood attractions like free cookie samples and toy cars roaming the floor. The boys bounced around and pointed, but they never caused any problems.

I was pretty dang impressed.

So where does this strong-willed-children comment come in? As I talked to the older boy, I realized that his civilized behavior had not been easily won. His parents confirmed that it was a fight with him sometimes. The kid reminded me of one of those circus elephants that’s been taught to play nice, but that knows deep down it can’t be denied if it goes after something.

As we walked the mall I began thinking it might have been nice to have kids. The parents and I talked about nothing much, and then they mentioned that they’d like to figure out a way to let their kids play against other kids in games on the X-Box, but they wanted to do it in a way that won’t rot their sons’ brains.

“You could let them play, but only if they can figure out how to cheat,” I said. “It’s like an intellectual exercise.”

The subsequent silence indicated that was not a good answer. So maybe it’s better after all that we haven’t reproduced. No kids, then.

But to continue a theme, I also like difficult women. That’s a different story with a lot fewer references to being well-behaved.

I may be balancing a ball in the circus today, but tomorrow I’ll be free to fling dirt on my head.

Photo by Cojharries
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We’re never as dangerous as when we think we’re wise. At least I’m not. I’m always full of opinions about people who watch reality TV, or smoke, or wear their pants below their ass crack. I may talk about them, or give them dubious looks. It makes me feel a little better. But sometimes I start thinking I should prevent them from doing these things, and that’s when I fall into dangerous-as-a-panther-dropping-acid territory.

I don’t object to laws against stealing, killing, and other awful behaviors. Those have been thought about and tested by thousands of people over thousands of years. It’s like they’ve been crash tested, and they turned out to be Volvos. But when I think I’m so wise I can build a car in my backyard and let someone drive it into a wall, that’s unlikely to go well.

I get outraged by people who are shitty parents. I defy anyone to argue that some parents are not awful and repugnant in a way that poisons the soul. I think, “Jeez, if I could have stopped them from being parents, I would have.” I also think, “What the hell? People need a license to go out and shoot a deer between the eyes, but they can just have a kid because they think it would be neat?”

Sometimes I bitch to my friends about this. I’m blowing off steam and rockin’ on the injustice of it all. Then I think, “I can fix this. There ought to be a law.” That’s when I walk into the land of the dangerous panther. Until that point I’ve been complaining, but now I think I’m wise enough to make people do things and fix the whole problem. It took a wise fellow like Solomon to suggest cutting a baby in half. How much wisdom does it take to decide which people don’t deserve any baby parts at all?

My problem is that I wouldn’t get to see the parents act like insane baboons with their kid first, and then afterwards decide whether to let them have a kid. They’d already have the kid by then. So I’d have to make a prediction. That’s also known as a guess wearing a suit and tie.

Or, maybe I could look at them with their first kid and then decide whether to let them have any more. But even that’s tricky, because this all deals with who is allowed to exist and who isn’t. If I’m deciding whether other people’s children can exist, I’d better be pretty damned wise. Or, I’d better I hire wise people. And I’d better hope that after I’m dead the people making existence decisions don’t say to hell with being wise, and just tell the people they don’t like to shut up and forget having kids.

But I can be optimistic. Maybe I’m wise, and the people who come along after me will be wise, and everybody and his pet goat ends up being a wise, wise fellow. Maybe I can predict with complete accuracy who will be a whirling natural disaster as a parent. Victory! Let’s get a beer and get laid!

But wait—I see a flatulent hog rooting in my re-ordered garden of existence. Horrible parents don’t always create horrible children, and horrible children don’t always grow into horrible adults. In fact, if someone could have predicted my childhood, they would have almost certainly prohibited my existence, and I wouldn’t be around to comb my wife’s hair and ignore the weeds in my yard because I’m watching Blazing Saddles.

In the end, I haven’t even shown that I’m wise enough to stay away from wallpapering a bathroom. That’s not a good wisdom resume. I might bitch all I want about horrific parents, but as far as deciding who can and can’t exist, I guess I’ll stay out of what people do with their happy parts.

Besides, I may be busy passing other laws. I’m starting to change my mind about those pants-below-the-ass-crack guys.

Should this child have been allowed to exist? We’re still not really sure.