Letter from the Editor

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Parenting 'Survivor'

If the '60s were the age of enlightenment, and the '70s the regrettable disco years, and the '80s the "Me Generation" and the '90s "Generation X" - how will this decade be remembered?

So far, it's shaping up as the "Survivor" era. Without a world war, or a political upheaval, or a revolutionary new invention to change our lives, or at least some shocking new breed of music - it's the best we can do, it seems.

So we sat and watched "Survivor," "Fear Factor," "The Amazing Race," "Lost" and the rest of the clones, hunkered around the Sony as if it were the moon landing. The latest one seems to be about grown people pretending to be pirates.

The idea is that you put a bunch of strangers on a deserted tropical island, or in the Australian outback, or racing through a jungle on a bike, or whatever, and abuse them until they all go "Lord of the Flies" and start to run around buck nekkid stabbing each other in the butt with bamboo spears.

Imagine - The brutality! The deprivation! The primal screams! The squalid conditions! The stomach-turning things eaten! The wild beasts! The filth! The scheming! The brushes with doom!

No, not the show, silly. That's the situation in our living room, where we watch "Lost" with our children.

Come on - a deserted tropical island, steamy rain forest or pirate ship? That isn't survival for a grizzled parent, that's vacation, skippy.

You want to see tough? You want to try to be a Survivor?

Try spending the afternoon as a soccer mom with a van load of eight-year olds hopped up on sports drinks and Dilly Bars.

Then, I shall be impressed.

After long winter months of being cooped up in a small, germ-infested house with antsy children, I would wager that most parents in this vicinity would not view a little isolation time on a deserted island as a terrible hardship.

So you have to eat a koala or something here or there. Pshaw. Ever choked down a 5-year-old's first attempt at baking a cupcake - with a smile locked on your face even as you realize they substituted mud for frosting?

Children might not conspire to exile you, but they do have the unerring ability to strike their fathers directly in the groin with an 18-year succession of baseballs, footballs, basketballs, golf balls, tennis balls, etc., depending on the season. I am only thankful my kids do not bowl.

Survivor? Ah yes, that is the parent. By this time, he or she has choked down six pounds of dust off little league ballfield parking lots and lived to tell about it.

They've consumed food that would make a skewered rat look downright nutritious in order to obtain those Sappy Meal toys.

They've perhaps gotten stuck in the tube slide at Burger King while trying to rescue a stubborn toddler, or left half their skin on the sidewalk after deciding to try out junior's new Razor scooter or roller blading with their pre-teen daughter.

That's survival, baby. Bring it on.

Those poor people on TV's extreme reality shows lose weight due to the rigorous conditions. The parent loses weight due to worry about how they are going to save money for college tuition while the Iowa Regents jack up rates faster than a SUV burns jacked-up Storm Lake-priced gasoline.

The people on TV get burned and blistered by the tropical sun. The parent gets burned and blistered while volunteering to help out at the elementary track meet, trying to help out the teachers because they know the Iowa Legislature is never going to figure out how to pay them what they deserve.

The people on TV are reduced to wearing ragged clothes. So are the parents, because they have to buy 20 pairs of kids' jeans a year which always magically develop holes in both knees the day before the school concert, and a never-ending stream of overpriced little Nikes that seem to get outgrown faster than you can lace them up. Thanks a million, Michael Jordan.

The people on TV get angry at each other. Try waking up and finding a tree frog in your shoe, your best tie turned into a headband and grape juice in the shape of a map of the Galapagos Islands spilled across your car seat. Take a deep breath, and go ahead, vote a child off the island. In your head. You'll feel better.

On TV they lose control amid the stress and call each other nasty names. Hey, you haven't heard name-calling until you've taken a long car trip with a young brother and sister duo in the back. They raise it to an art level.


The people on TV endure their brief ordeal and then hit the talk show circuit, write books, host music video programs, and pose their beach-buff butts for Playboy and Playgirl. They are rich and sassy and all puffed up with their status as "Survivor."

Parents endure their ordeal and then as a reward hit... the teenage years!


Funny thing, though.

I doubt that when the TV show people get all done Surviving that they will miss their travails in the Outback or wherever. I bet that years later they won't be looking at snapshots and wishing they could do it all over again.

The parenting Survivor ordeal? We wouldn't have missed it for the world.

But the deal should darn well come with a little time on a deserted island, just to be fair.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Pilot. Reach him at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com