Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

My day care

I’m running a little ad hoc day care today: one of my daughter’s classmates is spending the day here, part of a program to handle the week-long interregnum between sumemr school and the start of the regular year.

I have a sense of how the day is going to work. I suggested that they go outside and play in the backyard, since it’s going to be incredibly hot today; they listened politely, then ran into my daughter’s room. Now they’re back in the living room, playing with the Little People circus. I, meanwhile, have plugged up my iPod, and turned it up loud enough so I can’t hear their conversation. Just because I’m watching them doesn’t mean I have to listen to them.

Later we’re going to go over to my in-laws and swim. Swimming has emerged as my favorite sport because 1) the kids like it, and 2) it makes the kids tired.

I’m amazed at how much time my wife and I– and many of our friends– spend trying to manage our childrens’ metabolisms and energy levels. You want to time activities so they get tired, but not so tired that they get cranky. You want them to sleep well at night, not go to pieces in the afternoon. They need regular injections of food and drink, but you want to avoid either the encouragement of bad habits or public censure of your parenting skills. (A large amount of my time in public with my children, it occurs to me, is spent keeping them from doing things that will leave the impression that I’m a Bad Father.)

Some of this tendency to micromanage– or at least to remain in a position to regulate– their lives reflects American bourgeois parent culture, with its playdates, obsession with safety, and worry that any choice will have unintended yet unpredictable consequences (will she get into Yale if we take that gymanstics class?). However, a lot of it is also a function of age: it’s harder to let young kids entertain themselves. Presumably I’ll be able to just turn them loose when they’re a little older, with only small risk to life and limb.

Unless, of course, they’re incapable of being turned loose because they’re so programmed to believe that it’s my job to entertain them.

My daughter just asked if we could make ice cream, something we haven’t done in months. But it would be entertaining, especially on a hot day. Besides, she did it with one of her other friends on a playdate– about a year and a half ago. She can’t remember to not tease her brother, but she can recall things she did with friends when she was four.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for them to declare that they’re bored. Maybe I can take them to Starbucks, and do some work while they eat muffins.


  1. So let me guess…you ended up making ice cream?
    Here parenting sounds awfully like taking care of Sims. Sims, too, have levels of this and that (energy, hunger, boredom) which have to be carefully managed if you want them to be happy. But I can say, as the parent of an almost-11 year old, that it gets much easier to turn them loose now and then. And it turns out to be more liberating than I had anticipated.

  2. Parenting being like the Sims. I love it.

    I wonder if home economics or abstinence classes will start using the Sims as an example of what you need to do to raise children?

  3. Though taking the metaphor one more step, I suppose you might think of child care as an attempt to stay within the bounds of The Sims, rather than have it turn into Doom 3 or Grand Theft Auto.

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