No Parrots Here

free range parenting, kids different than parents, children's interests, selfhood,

Image CC by 2.0 Ajari

Parenting would be easier if my children wanted to learn about the same things that I happen to love.

I once had the naive assumption that they would naturally develop my passion for environmentalism, muckraking journalism, anthropology, applied ethics, messy art, alternative medicine, and satire.  I knew these passions weren’t genetic, my parents were into playing bridge and visiting historical sites.  But I figured my children would absorb my fascination by osmosis.

Nope. More like reverse osmosis. They seem to feel that just living
with me is exposure enough to those topics.  More than enough.

I play tapes of peace songs and world music despite their feigned death throes.  I take them, all right, drag them, to tiny art galleries, odd ethnic restaurants, wildlife sanctuaries and community service projects. They point out that they’ve never owned hand held video games and on that basis alone could be considered culturally deprived.

I occasionally read periodicals aloud hoping to discuss important issues with them, which has caused them to say, “She’s ranting again.”  My grandiose art schemes, such as building a catapult to fling paint onto huge canvases, ala Jackson Pollack, are met with rolled eyeballs.  I only need to look serious a brief moment before my daughter alerts her siblings, with warnings like, “Oh no, mom’s launching into another sermon.  I think she’s on number 127, the Deeper Meaning of Things.”  I concoct homemade tinctures of herbal remedies which admittedly aren’t taste treats, but aren’t cause enough for them to call the kitchen Mom’s Evil Laboratory.  You get the idea.

They are certainly their own people.  They seem instinctively drawn to what I’m not. I can almost hear the screech as my brain cells are continually forced to expand to include their interests.

Several of them actually like organized activities like scouts and 4-H.  This requires meetings where I have to sit in a folding chair and behave myself.  I prefer spontaneous, free form events, like “Hey, lets paint a mural on that wall.”

I hide it well, but secretly I’m squeamish.  Naturally they bring me snakes, toads, beetles, spiders, and slugs.  They expect me to fawn over them.  I can only do a passable faux fawn.

I like safety precautions like helmets, seat belts, and peace accords.  My 10-year-old son adores skateboards, stunt biking, and tree climbing.  He plans to be a pilot. He talks to me about airfoils and ailerons.  I’d only fly if I were being awarded the Nobel Prize. Even then I’d probably ask if it could be delivered.

I’m a vegetarian.  Naturally, my daughter is smitten with dissecting.  She wants to be a forensic pathologist.  Supportively, I’ve purchased poor innocent creatures floating in formaldehyde, procured eyeballs and hearts from the butcher shop, even taken pictures of the gore she calls anatomy.  She proudly showed her grandmother the virtual autopsy web site.  My mother was intrigued.  I restrained myself from asking, “What happened to playing bridge?”

I have trouble with technical details.  I even require assistance getting film in and out of our vintage 35 mm camera.  I finally recognized this as an immutable fact after indulging myself in a few temper tantrums over broken film. Of course my oldest is a ham radio operator, builds authentic model railroad layouts, fixes our 1949 tractor, and stuns his boss into silence with his ability to fix highly exacting equipment. When he was six he patiently explained to me how to program the clock in our car.  I forgot what he said AS he was saying it.

I’ve been known to slip into situational ethics from my pillar of universal truths at times, but I’m always caught by my youngest.  “Why do you talk about cherishing all life if you want to get rid of the wasp nest in the attic?” he’ll say sweetly with seven-year-old logic.  “Why do you let the phone go to voice mail?  Isn’t that like lying?” Okay, maybe they are learning what I have to say, but I wish they wouldn’t use it against me.

Occasionally I’ll get their grudging admiration for silly feats, like my useless mental compendium of decades-old song lyrics or my willingness to sass authority figures. But more and more often we find that our interests intersect.  I can’t help but be awed by the uniqueness of what they find fascinating, and they can’t help but understand what I thrive on.  Best of all, we laugh together.

Parenting would be easier if they parroted my interests, but that would be indoctrination instead of exploration.  I’m glad they are their own people.  We all lean toward what helps us grow, like eager plants inclining towards sunlight even if it shines from different windows.

reprint from Home Education Magazine

3 thoughts on “No Parrots Here

  1. Oh I had wanted to like your post but for some reason it won’t let me so consider this a verbal thumbs up, I do so enjoy your writing.
    Take Care
    Spiritual Rebel x


  2. This is one of my favorite posts ever. What a beautiful piece of writing.

    And how it resonates! I have degrees in English literature and history, and was a a literary historian in my previous profession. My daughter heartily loathes history. Her passions are horses, physics, and theater. I am afraid of horses, can never get past the basic idea that a floor or bridge pushes UP to counteract the weight of what is standing on it, and drama is the single genre in which I feel utterly incompetent as a reader.

    But as you have described so brilliantly, our interests inform one another and expand each other’s minds. What I have also found is that having their own separate passions allows our kids to feel competent and confident. I recognize that my daughter has a lot to teach me, that she has expertise I lack. If she had only followed in my footsteps, she would be perpetually in my shadow, forever locked into the position of humble apprentice, never becoming her own master.

    Now, she will brief me on what to expect and look for before we see a play together. She is patiently and lovingly teaching me algebra II, which I skipped over in high school. She listens to my spiels on education and women writers, puts up with my penchant for historicizing everything. Sharing one another’s passions is incredibly enriching and mind-expanding. I now feel that my previous mental life, however academic and intense, was in many ways narrow and limited. Her separation from me through her individual interests has ended up being one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive, and has brought us closer together than I ever anticipated.

    Thank you again for such a lovely post.


    • KahollisKaren,

      I smiled reading about the contrast of your interests and how they’re expanding both your lives. What a beautiful way you put this, “forever locked into the position of humble apprentice…”

      You’ve made me look back at why I feel competent in certain areas and I’ve noticed that these are areas I didn’t get much guidance or help in. I don’t mean this negatively, just that my parents didn’t put a lot of stock in fostering say, writing or research. I remember staying up late trying to finish papers for school, near tears because I couldn’t fit more than a tiny bit of all I’d researched and all I thought into a report or essay. My parents would tell me I should have started working on it sooner, tell me I’d do just fine, kiss me and go to bed. No one hovered over me or gave advice. I might have welcomed it at 13, but I think you’re right, overall it could have weakened the hard work that’s necessary.

      My kids tolerate it as I drone on about outsider art or recent Supreme Court decisions or gut bacteria, I have learned much more than I ever imagined possible about internal combustion engines and osteology and backpacking. I love it this way. But I do wish you and I could hang out. I adore literature and history.


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