Your Kid is Not Amazing and Neither are You

Today’s rant is brought to you by Facebook.  Thank you, Facebook!

What happened is that my boss posted photos of her kid in a creative, super-cool Halloween costume.

(You can see a sample of them on Ella’s wall. FYI if you mostly read Family Circus and Umbert the Unborn, it’s probably not going to scratch your itch; then again, you probably don’t read here anyway.)

It is an above-average costume in ways that made it hard to find the right adjectives — so let me begin by forgiving the people who used my trigger-word in their reactions.  But we must be clear: The costume is not amazing.

Here are some things that are amazing:

  • A freak natural disaster that destroys a whole town except one building, and that building happened to be the place where everyone went for refuge.
  • Thousands of skeptics witnessing the sun dancing in the sky at the site of an approved Marian apparition.
  • Organic chemistry.

There are other things, of course.  But lately I’m wondering if people just don’t get out much, because they are constantly expressing their amazement at things I hope aren’t actually that astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, or breathtaking.

It’s normal to be impressed by someone’s display of intelligence and wit; it’s a bit insulting to publicly announce that you’re stupefied by it.


The amazing insult is constantly being hurled at mothers of many young children, and other people who are in the midst of doing hard things.  It stings two ways.

First is the if you only knew feeling.  I make this look easy?  Honey, you have no idea how hard this is. You’re not seeing all the ways this is difficult for me.

The second is baser: So you’re telling me that you didn’t think I was able to do hard things?


The amazing insult sucks all the merit out of an accomplishment.

My ninth grader has exceptionally good grades this year, especially when compared to many of her classmates.   Is there some staggering, shocking, startling secret to her achievement? No. She works hard for those grades.  She does the reading. She makes flashcards and studies them.  She turns in her assignments on time.  It’s not an astonishing accomplishment, it’s the fruit of her hard work.

I’m very sorry if you’d find it stupefying to discover your teenager did homework, but I assure you the school doesn’t fabricate these assignments with the expectation that students will roundly ignore them.


I don’t mean to be so much of a curmudgeon.  Once I sat down to help an artist friend with some accounting questions, and I said something along the lines of, “Accounting isn’t complicated.  You just keep a record of what’s happening.”  His retort was dead-on: “Okay, so how about if I told you that in order to draw something, all you had to do was look at the thing and draw what you see?”

Someone else’s talent can seem astonishing to us when it’s a talent we ourselves do not possess.  Like this video of Italian glass blowing (be patient, it takes a couple minutes to get past the intro and into the glass works):

There is indeed tremendous wonder and beauty in all the things that humans can do.

Still, I’m a little worried about people who are too-easily amazed.

File:Astonishment, lithograph by Thomas Fairland after W. H. Hunt, c. 1870s.jpg

Astonishment. Hand-colored lithograph by Thomas Fairland after W. H. Hunt, original watercolor, 1839, lithograph c. 1840s via Wikimedia [Public Domain]