ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Commentator Geoffrey Grosshans writes fables for a literary magazine called The Stuffed Fabulist. He's been noticing a lot of overzealous parenting lately, and he's not amused by it.
Once a pair of cuckoos worried about their parenting skills. `How can we guarantee the brightest future for our eggs?' they asked themselves. Traditionally, cuckoos have sought to advance the prospects of their young by laying them in the nests of other birds. In this way, the hatchlings might make the most of their diverse environments and grow up to be more rounded and more successful than their parents.
But this cuckoo pair was different. Already convinced they were the most rounded and most successful birds they knew, they wanted their young to have every opportunity not to surpass them--For how was that possible?--but to have the best chance of duplicating their own attainments and satisfactions.
To this end, the cuckoos did their homework in planning every moment of their unhatched eggs' future: what brain-stimulating bauble to buy first, how to ace the entrance exams for the most prestigious kindergartens, which soccer league to join, which SAT and ACT prep course to follow, what community service looked best on college applications, the choices, careers, etc., etc.
Despite all these precautions, though, the cuckoos couldn't free themselves of a nagging uneasiness that the young might not live up to their high expectations. Suppose the little ones turned out not to show any benefit from these many efforts to secure a future as impressive as their parents. Wouldn't that failure inevitably mean years of underachievement, hopelessness and low self-esteem?
As the cuckoos looked around them, this anxiety was only increased by what they saw. The hatchlings next door seemed to be doing so well. Could their own ever hope to match the neighbors' triumphs in kindergarten, soccer, test scores, college admissions, choice careers, etc., etc.? They even began to wonder if the neighboring brood weren't, in fact, meant to be theirs and had inexplicably ended up in the wrong nest.
Once they'd reached this state of mind, it wasn't long before the cuckoos were driven to reckless measures. They began roaming far and wide in search of unguarded exceptional eggs to bring home. The many they gathered not only burdened their nest, however, but also made their own eggs appear even more unsatisfactory in the cuckoos' eyes. The new ones definitely looked more likely to produce something fully deserving of the parenting efforts made on their behalf. This being the case, the cuckoo pair felt they had no choice but to begin pushing the less promising eggs out of the overcrowded nest, letting them fall to their fate below.
(Soundbite of "So Long, Farewell")
Unidentified Group: (Singing) There's a sad song a-clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple, too.
SIEGEL: Commentator Geoffrey Grosshans writes fables and parables and edits The Stuffed Fabulist. He lives in Seattle.
(Soundbite of "So Long, Farewell")
Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo. Regretfully they tell us, but firmly they compel us to say goodbye, goodbye, to you. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night.
Unidentified Child #1: (Singing) I hate to go and miss this pretty sight.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Group: (Singing) So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu.
Unidentified Child #2: (Singing) Adieu, adieu... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.