A 16-year-old girl tries to sail solo around the world, making it as far as the Indian Ocean before a monster wave nearly drowns her. A 13-year-old boy summits Mt. Everest, and is now headed off to Antarctica to climb that continent’s highest peak.
And you think you’ve got the right to be proud of your honor student?
Younger and younger kids are taking on greater and greater demands. And despite criticism from some quarters that they’re being robbed of their childhoods, and often racking up huge expenses when they have to be rescued from the side of some precipice, most child-rearing experts are happy to see youthful freeloaders making something of themselves.
With many physical challenges already conquered, ambitious parents are now turning to more real-world tests of perseverance in the hope that their offspring will be the youngest ever to do something.
In California, for example, 11-year-old Ethan Hoover has entered the race for governor. With that state being crushed by unprecedented budget deficits and ruinous cuts in public services, Hayden faces a prospect almost as daunting as skateboarding off his stepfather’s roof if he’s elected.
“I’ll admit that there are difficult choices that will have to be made,” Ethan said recently. “We’ll have to hope our revenue stream catches some big air if we want to avoid emptying the prisons and closing the schools. And if we don’t, hey, that’s the way it goes. I hate school anyway.”
In New Jersey, 9-year-old Abigail Henson is busy packing her bags in preparation for a summer vacation to be spent in the lawless frontiers of eastern Afghanistan. There, she will participate in a bridge-building project that will link two remote villages across the Khyber Pass, while dodging rocket attacks from nearby Taliban strongholds.
“I’ve been studying all spring about how to pour concrete at altitude,” Abigail said. “I could’ve been rocking out at a Justin Bieber concert with my friends next month, but my parents and I felt it was more important to contribute to war zone infrastructure improvements that could win the battle for the hearts and minds of the Pashtun people.”
Five-year-old Liam Adams of Barre, Vt., is also headed abroad in early July. He’ll be spending the next six weeks working with the European Parliament in Belgium on strategies to prop up the sagging euro, as economies on the continent struggle with massive deficits.
Little Liam blasts the bond rating agencies for converting much of southern Europe’s debt load to junk status as the likes of Greece, Portugal and Italy come to grips with aging populations that test their pension systems.
“Moody’s and S&P, they just need to chill,” Liam told a group of investors before meeting up with the flight attendant who’ll supervise his transit across the Atlantic. “Once the recession has fully bottomed out, these countries will have a chance to recover. Until then, everybody has to be cool. Now if you don’t mind, I need to make a poopy.”
Liam said he was bringing the $100 savings bond his Aunt Chloe gave him for his birthday in May and would deposit it in the European Central Bank as a show of good faith “if I have to.”
Meanwhile, in New York, three-year-old Elijah Oliver has signed a contract with Time Warner to implement a change in the fortunes of the communications giant’s Turner television holdings, where formerly high-flying cable players like CNN and Headline News are struggling in the ratings.
Elijah will have a difficult task reversing the trend of viewers who have flocked to rivals like Fox News and MSNBC in search of more provocative news coverage. There seems to be little room left in the old-media niche of objective reporting, investigative journalism and incisive analysis.
“With Larry King’s retirement, I think we’re poised for a real turnaround,” the shy Elijah whispered to his mommy, who then communicated his comments to reporters. “I’ll be kicking ass in the executive suites over there, if that’s what it takes to get us back to number one.”
Finally, in perhaps the most adorable effort to overcome the limitations of youth to make their mark in the world, 16-month-old triplets Braden, Erin and Gavin Tannen are beating divergent paths to the top of the toddler heap. Braden is headed to the Yukon Territory to become an ice road trucker, Erin will be touring the former Soviet republics of central Asia in an attempt to secure so-called “loose nukes,” and the red-headed Gavin, the youngest of the brood by 12 minutes, is going to try to stop smoking without gaining weight.
“I don’t know which of them is facing the toughest job,” said dad Albert Tannen. “When I stopped smoking, I thought that was the hardest thing I ever did. Though you’ve got to believe that dealing with Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz who have such a dire need for hard currency that they’re willing to sell fissile materials to terrorists ranks right up there.”
“Mommy!” added Erin, called a “real girly girl” by her father. “Don’t go bye-bye! Ethnic Tajiks scary!”