On the flip side, I visited Alcatraz in December and bought a charming magnet with the inspiring inscription: "Regulation #5: You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege."
These two extremes got me thinking--what do we owe our kids? Beyond the three hots and a cot, what really matters?
Traditions - They help kids form memories, and I'll even argue, values. For the past few 4ths of July we've gotten the kids in their p.j.s, let them pick out candy at 7-11, and watched the fireworks from our car on the Ocean View Blvd. overpass. Sure, it's a non-traditional tradition borne out of laziness (who wants to park six blocks from the high school, walk with four kids and lawn chairs, and then pack in with thousands of other people?), but the kids have a blast and learn that sometimes the best solution is the unconventional one.
Education - It's not about just making sure the kids are in a good public school or that they go to college, but that they're really learning (kids aren't crock pots; you can't just turn them on and get something warm and juicy eight hours, or 18 years, later). For us this means homeschooling, but it might just mean talking to teachers or doing special stuff at home. (When we had problems, we tried marching into the principal's office and kicking some bureaucratic butt, but her butt was surprisingly kick-resistant, so we left the school.)
Sense of a bigger world - They need to know that the world is much different outside of La Crescenta (far fewer RVs per capita). They need to see and experience some good and bad stuff from the bigger world. We frequently talk to our kids about slavery and injustice (in little kid terms--no genocide pictures), and after Nathan yelled at the "Yes on 8" supporters on the freeway onramp, we explained the intolerance of Proposition 8 (this made their "No on 8!" cries during our carpool with the little Mormon girl a little awkward).
Security - They need to be able to grow and develop without (much) scrutiny and know that they can always come home. But I think it's perfectly reasonable to tell your three-year-old that buttoning the top button is dorky unless you're wearing a tie. And clip-on ties are dorky unless it's a bow tie. And bow ties are dorky unless you're under 10 or over 70 or just "quirky" (and quirky in quotes doesn't mean gay, but gays can be quirky, and since my mother thinks this is offensive, I'll also say that middle-age white women from Orange County can also be quirky).
Family - Siblings are the best gifts you can give your kids (extended family is great too, but sometimes you can't really choose to give that gift). It's no secret that I like large families, and I'll even go out on a controversial limb here and say that one-child families aren't great; only-children are missing out. Sibling relationships can be the most rewarding, challenging, frustrating, and long-lasting relationships of our kids' lives. Plus, kids need siblings to help them decide on nursing homes when mom and dad get too old, feeble, or irritating.
Basic skills - They need to know how to do it themselves, whatever "it" may be. I don't care if my kids take their cars to mechanics or hire plumbers, but if they can't do their own taxes, mow and edge the lawn, and write a complaint letter, I haven't done my job. I'd also like them to be willing to try anything. Never made a wedding invitation or cut your husband's hair with clippers? Try it, it's surprisingly easy. (And while hair isn't very forgiving, husbands are.)
Much of my list could have a tangible or monetary component (extensive travel, expensive lessons), but all can be provided with very little money, and the results are priceless.