What Robert Can Do (10)

Photo: Scanpix
8/12/2013 9:05 AM
Category: Opinion

“How old is your son? Three? My son was reading by then! Learned his alphabet at age two.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a similar story forced on me in a public playground. The parents are perhaps well-meaning, proud of their own, but I have to wonder just how much of it is fiction. Because if your three-year-old can really read, shouldn’t he be over at the university enrolled in a philosophy course, instead of sitting under the swing set rubbing dog feces all over his face?

“Oh, your kid isn’t potty trained yet? My daughter was potty trained at six months.”

It’s tough to be a parent of a three year old who has not yet done anything extraordinary by society’s standards. My little Robert does not play violin, is not a chess grandmaster, and has not won the Ironman. He has not developed a popular iPhone app, nor has he made his first million.

What he can do with remarkable aptitude is crush snails he finds in the garden. He can stand on his father’s wheelbarrow and load a recycling machine with enough empty beer bottles to recoup ten euros in just a few minutes. He can urinate on his mother’s strawberries and remain silent when she eats them directly from the vine.

These achievements aren’t going to allow me to win a pissing match with most other parents. The need for one’s own child to be superior is surely as ancient and inevitable as prostitution. One either elects to participate in the game or remains silent. I’m still struggling to decide which route to take.

“My child attends the school where President Ilves’s child goes. Where does your child go?” She was 30-something, well dressed in that Eastern European way, which is to say every thread that covered her body had a designer label.

“What good fortune,” I was tempted to say, “that your child’s ass touches the same toilet ring as the president’s child.” Instead I settled for a “You must be so proud.” But my sarcasm went unnoticed.

“He’s also enrolled in a course to prepare him for state exams so that he can get into a very good grade school,” she continued.

I suppose I’m just beginning to get a taste of what’s in store as Robert grows older. Tiger moms will boast of their sons’ legitimate chances at solving Goldbach’s conjecture, while my boy struggles with multiplication tables. Tiger dads (do they call them that?) will live vicariously through their black belt sons kicking the crap out of mine.

If this is the case I’m going to have to hole up and avoid other parents, or else seek out the parents of underachievers. Are they the ones who encourage their children to play games where there are no winners or losers? Or push their kids to take up harmonic hobbies like choir singing and ballroom dancing? Or those who send their kids to camps where “Kumbaya” is still sung around the fire?

For dealing with tiger parents, I’ve begun to experiment with a kneejerk response about craniometrics, which I offer free of charge to you, fellow parent. You are welcome to help stuff a sock in the mouths of those who desperately need it.

My tactic is to pretend to seriously mull over the mother’s boast that her three-year-old has mastered all 24 Paganini Caprices or conquered the Seven Summits, all the time studying the shape of the child’s head. “You know,” I say, rubbing my chin, “psychopaths and criminals have smaller amygdalae and prefrontal cortices than other children. Have you had your child checked out?”

While she’s processing that, I add that the chair of the criminology department at the University of Pennsylvania (Ilves's alma mater, don’t forget to mention) can identify brain markers which allow people to progress to become rapists, arsonists, and ax murderers.

It generally only takes a few seconds for the mother to find a reason to relocate her child to the other side of the playground (“Oh, look, stagnant water!”), and you’ll never hear again about her ballerina daughter who’s destined for the Mariinsky.

While I’m polishing my phrenology approach, I’ve also started to prepare myself in case Robert does not get admitted to one of those elite schools with its own swimming pool, iPads for every kid, and an annual government-funded trip to the Louvre with dinner afterwards at Maxim’s.

I am trying to get comfortable with the fact that Robert’s school may be like one I toured a couple of year’s back in Mustamäe: paint flaking off the walls, windows that don’t close all the way, and no heliport on the roof for students arriving from Viimsi.

I’m starting to practice the recitation of truisms like “All I want is for my son to be happy,” and “I just want my son to be healthy.”

But of course I also desire that Robert is not a burden on society. I don’t want him to be homeless, and I don’t want him to be a pickpocket, arsonist, or real estate developer.

From what I’ve seen so far, I think he might become some kind of humanitarian. Robert exhibits a palpable concern for other children. He worries about an orphan mitten we pass in the park. “Daddy, boy lost a mitten,” he says. “Boy’s hand cold.” He doesn’t stop repeating it until I assure him that the boy’s mother knitted a new one. “Boy still sad, Daddy,” he remarks, until he notices the redheaded girl on the slipper slide, the one who’s on the list of Child Prodigies So Amazing They'll Ruin Your Day.

Robert runs toward her shouting her name. When they meet they hug, and start to play. Then the mother sees me and whisks the little genius away. “Why’d she go, Daddy?” Robert asks. “It was her mitten,” I say. “She went to get it.” And this fills him with joy, so much joy that he’d wet his pants if I didn’t distract him with a snail in the grass that needs a proper crushing.



The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

Reply to comment

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
Add new comment
  • foto
    Opinion digest: Open Enterprise Estonia’s consultation services and assessments to competition

    Enterprise Estonia handed out advice to companies, and assessed whether or not they should receive public support, without being economically accountable, lawyer Taivo Ruus wrote in a Postimees opinion piece on Monday. This needed to change, and these activities delegated to professionals.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: The Reform Party’s new role

    After 17 years in government, Reform needed to find to a new role, and instead of being the manager of the Estonian state become a debater. How the party would get used to its new position, no longer able to dictate the political agenda, remained to be seen, said political scientist Mari-Liis Jakobson in a comment on Vikerraadio on Friday.

  • foto
    Andrus Karnau: Minister of Rural Affairs likely to be replaced

    Speaking on Sunday’s Raadio 2 broadcast of "State of the Union," radio show host Andrus Karnau found that the scandal to break out last week involving Martin Repinski’s goat farm was likely to culminate on Monday in his replacement as a minister of the newly-installed Estonian government.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Baltic states on front line of new Cold War

    While the Baltic states would prefer full defensive capability, NATO is emphasizing its reinforcements’ function as a deterrent. The alliance would have to round off its military presence in the area with diplomacy, and political stability and dedication to liberal democratic values would play an important role maintaining the West’s solidarity, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putting Rail Baltica in its strategic context

    In an opinion piece in daily Postimees, former EU commissioner Siim Kallas points out that Rail Baltica goes far beyond considerations of its route on Estonian soil, and the money the government will have to invest. On the contrary, there is a broader European meaning that includes considering the strategic situation of Estonia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Dynasties and democracy don't go well together

    Speaking about the recent US presidential elections on Vikerraadio’s Sunday broadcast of "Samost and Rumm," hosts Anvar Samost and Hannes Rumm recognized that Donald Trump’s election win is being considered as the destruction of two political dynasties there, however democracy and dynasties don’t go well together anyway.

  • foto
    Opinion: Estonia’s lasting isolation

    The fact that too many foreign journalists do not understand the Estonian language, and that they have no access to the local political culture and its players, has distorted reports abroad of what happened this week, writes ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Left turns and ‘silent submission’

    The embarrassing conflation of the Reform Party’s self-image with the Estonian state is proof that it is high time they are sent into opposition, says journalist Alo Lõhmus.

  • foto
    Opinion: Getting rid of ruling party's privileges doesn't damage Estonia's reputation

    On Friday, the ministers of the Social Democrats (SDE) and the Pro Patra and Res Publica Union (IRL) began calling back Reform Party members from the boards of state-owned companies and funds. The Reform Party’s reaction was an announcement published on Sunday — a rather strange one, finds ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Ärma is more than just numbers

    Ärma Farm’s funding scandal was overshadowing the achievements of Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ presidency, including the fact that Estonia had benefited from state visits that Ilves hosted in Ärma, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) said to ERR on Thursday.

  • foto
    Benno Schirrmeister: Do Estonians dream of electric sheep?

    On a journalist exchange in Estonia, Benno Schirrmeister of Bremen’s TAZ is highly informed, yet a blank slate as far as a foreigner’s experience of Estonia is concerned. In his first op-ed about Tallinn, he spots something beyond IT that Estonia could advertise — but doesn’t.

  • foto
    Erkki Bahovski: Was 1940 approach better than modern journalism's 'war hysteria'?

    Linguist Urmas Sutrop has claimed that Estonian journalism is scaring people with the specter of war. Editor-in-Chief of monthly magazine Diplomaatia Erkki Bahovski, however, doesn’t agree.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kremlin in danger of losing sense of reality

    According to Ingo Mannteufel, head of the Department for Russia and Europe at Deutsche Welle, there is a possibility of the Kremlin starting to believe its own propaganda, which could lead to dangerous decisions both domestically and internationally.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia’s stagnating politics

    Estonia’s largest political parties had been going through the most serious crisis in their existence, and on top of that they had lost their most important function, namely to formulate a vision of the country’s future, daily Postimees wrote in its Friday editorial.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putin exploiting power vacuum created by U.S. presidential elections

    According to director of Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security and former ambassador to Russia, Jüri Luik, the increased tensions over the past few weeks between Russia and the West indicate Putin’s wish to exploit the ambiguous mood before the U.S. presidential elections as much as possible.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Time to return to discussing serious issues

    In a stinging opinion piece in published in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, member of the Riigikogu Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform) condemned the Estonian media as well as the country’s elites for their obsession with what he sees as pointless topics, while disregarding the last few weeks’ unsettling developments concerning Russia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Legally speaking, everything is proper

    After Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ decade in office, and after he promoted Estonia like no other president did before him, his legacy is now tainted by the fact that he seems to have gone for a substantial state grant in 2006 that he never put to use — and of which he will now pay back just a tenth.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Closer to Warsaw, farther away from Estonia

    In a recent opinion piece in daily Postimees, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote that one way to look at Rail Baltic was as a step towards the level other countries had already reached in terms of speed and comfort of their railway connections. The main weakness of this point of view was the fact that in Estonia, it lacked the necessary social context.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Leadership change in Reform needed for potential coalition with Center Party

    For a potential future coalition with the Center Party, the Reform Party needed to change its leader as well, Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Riigikogu’s Foreign Affairs Committee Sven Mikser wrote in a comment on social media on Friday.

  • foto
    Matthew Crandall: President Ilves’ global impact

    The greatest accomplishment of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is that he branded Estonia as a modern and innovative 21st century country, and brought it out of post-Soviet obscurity, writes Tallinn University’s Matthew Crandall.

  • foto
    The shackles of history and modern life in the fast lane: Estonia's experience in the migration crisis

    The uncertain public performances of Estonian politicians and poor explanatory work were to blame for a considerable increase in public distrust during the migration crisis, found ERR journalist Greete Palmiste, working in Bremen on an international journalists' exchange, in an opinion piece written for German publication taz.die Tageszeitung.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kersti Kaljulaid on the concepts of ethical nationalism and confident Estonians

    On Friday, Aug. 12, Estonian representative to the European Court of Auditors Kersti Kaljulaid delivered a patriotic speech on the Postimees Stage at the 2016 Opinion Festival in Paide in which she expanded on two words and two respective ideas she found important for her country that were represented by the two letter Es in its native-language name Eesti: eetiline (ethical) and enesekindel (confident).

  • foto
    This mess we're in: Picking up the pieces after Saturday's elections

    From Saturday’s election fiasco to Tuesday’s sudden emergence of a likely cross-party candidate: ERR News editor Dario Cavegn makes an attempt at explaining Estonia’s seemingly chaotic quest to find its next president.

  • foto
    Opinion: The decline of Estonian as a language of science starts abroad

    The Estonian language as a language of science is only sustainable in those subject areas that offer undergraduate courses in Estonian, and with which students begin their university education, finds ERR science portal editor Marju Himma.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Current approach to reform won't help municipalities

    The Center Party’s presidential candidate, Mailis Reps, wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees on Sunday that the Administrative Reform Act was a disappointment to Estonia’s municipalities, and that relations between local and central government were in a crisis.

  • foto
    Opinion: Jüri Nikolajev in response to the Ida-Viru secret memo

    Describing himself as "wearily spiteful" instead of angry, ERR's Narva correspondent Jüri Nikolajev responded to the top secret memo on Ida-Viru County that leaked recently, calling Estonians to figuratively not leave their property laying around if they did not want anyone else to take it for themselves.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Sulev Vedler on the secret memo on Ida-Viru County

    In 2015, the Government Security Committee received a secret memo containing a dark assessment of the future of Ida-Viru County, Estonia's most northeastern and predominantly Russian-speaking county, which was compiled by Ilmar Raag, who worked as a strategic communicatins advisor at the Stenbock House at the time. Estonian journalist Sulev Vedler responded to the memo by compiling various reactions to issues it addressed.

  • foto
    Opinion: Alo Lõhmus on the definition of Estonian citizen by blood

    Journalist Alo Lõhmus explored the right to Estonian citizenship by "jus sanguinis," Latin for right of blood, as it relates to one's eligibility to run for president — an issue which has had particular attention drawn to it recently after members of a competing political party attempted to cast doubt on the status of presidential candidate Marina Kaljurand's Estonian citizenship.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Erkki Bahovski on Finland and the alleged Baltic scheming

    Columnist Erkki Bahovski commented on the curious, decidedly defensive turn that seemed to be taken by Finland's Social Democrats following the release of a lengthy report by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI) which suggested that Russia, in its own self-interest, is attempting to hamper Finland's total integration with the West.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Siim Kallas thinks real estate tax effective way to finance local government

    The Reform Party’s presidential candidate, Siim Kallas, said in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees that an estate tax, more precisely a tax levied on real estate, could be considered to finance local government.