I am not raising a Greta. It’s not really right; in fact the tragedy of that train-wreck sometimes takes my breath away. Life is sad enough, hard enough, and with more bitterness and frustration all of its own to foist it upon little minds un-prepared. Its like robbery, a thief in the night stealing away the great joys of life; beauty unimaginable and the satisfaction of small acts of discovery in preparation for the tremendous triumph of achievement long fought and well won, if we ever get there; but even if not, the realization which comes with wisdom in knowing that there is happiness to be found in the journey and rewards even in a struggle unsung.
With my boy, we’ve decided to guide him along the rolling road of wonder as we introduce him slowly and methodically to our amazing world, a world he will call home for the next seventy or eighty years. We fill his days with curiosity – and experience the joy as he returns to us the marvels of the universe!! We romp around under the African sun hunting for geodes (which I seed into the rock-beds – something I may or may not ever tell him); “Nigeria has a lot of geodes,” he tells his grandparents, and we nod and grin. We bicycle the temperate summers; we ski the snowy mountains of the Caucasus – we build snowmen six-feet tall. We swim with dolphins; snorkel the extraordinary Red Sea reefs; and hike the dawn deserts of the southwest in the search of the elusive jackelope. We climb rock walls. On rainy days we build robots out of tin cans, play chess and construct Lego castles. On school nights we quiz him in his Russian class, carve the time away for violin so he can commune with the spirit of Beethoven (ok, right now it’s just “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” but we’re getting there!!) and review his math and Russian. Sure, we watch DinoTrux and Inspector Gadget and shoot each other with laser-tag guns; we watch “The Lorax” and learn about our need to protect the natural world God has given us, and we watch documentaries about the Vampyroteuthis Infernalis (literally the “vampire squid from hell”) in his dark watery abode. We teach him to read, buying him books – J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss – “Oh The Places You’ll Go”; reading to him at night stories of the epic struggle betwixt good and evil, finishing up with the simple Bible stories as we reinforce from whence came the fight, and the reassurance of who will eventually triumph. “It’s OK, little boy. There is, after all, a master plan.”
No, I am not filling my son’s days with hatred and the dread panic white hot and searing. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood!” he will never spew at the leaders of the free world, face contorted in malice (although I’m sure in moments of rebellion he will hurl such accusations at me). He will probably never be nominated for a Nobel prize (unless it be in science one day, after a lifetime of hard work – but that is up to him, and a little bit of luck). You see I am preparing my son for the enduring marathon of significance. Not the instant ephemeral flash of fame; lecturing his elders in contempt – appearing on the covers of newspapers and then vanishing in a yawn of boredom, cast aside by a world always in search of something new and realizing in a sickening sense of foreboding that you’ve been used only when your tweets return un-reverberating from the vapid void. No, instead he learns discipline. “Swimming class time,” his mother says, “because marine biologists have to know how to swim!” and he grins, for that is his chosen profession (for now). “Are there aliens?” – “We don’t know,” is my answer. “Maybe, but do your math – that is the only true vehicle to the stars,” and he whines through extra-math on the computer, “Can I be done now??”
We don’t talk much about politics – though it is something in which I have been intricately involved, for a long time. In school he’ll learn about how a bill becomes a law, how many representatives the states have, and what the United Nations is. We hope he won’t find those topics too interesting – for politics is the surest way to a miserable life. Besides there are no answers there anymore – less relevant these days to the fate of our planet than getting the breeder reactors functioning (we need more electricity if our leap away from the internal combustion engine is going to work) and discovering a stable element 115 and expanding plasma gasification technologies to the dump-sites of the world. If he asks what I do, I tell him “I fight the bad guys” and he just nods, but in the Sahel he never knew about the wars – even during the attempts on our lives; watching Mickey through the madness. It is all a part of his life, who he is and who he will become – and we hope that is something grand indeed, a lifetime of problem-solving away from the petty time-sucks that threaten to pull him down into the abyss. How do we prepare him for that? We start by not raising a “Greta”.
“You grow ravenous. You run fevers. You know exhilarations. You can’t sleep at night, because your beast-creature ideas want out and turn you in your bed. It is a grand way to live.” Ray Bradbury
As always, I appreciate your principled and compassionate approach, Joel. This one really resonated with me because I so share your thoughts on the sad, wonder-denied Gretas of the world. Your son is blessed with tremendous parents, who recognize and nurture the need of youth to find joy and hope along their journey.
Thank you Marcy! For some reason we don’t want to let our children be children anymore – to chase butterflies and look for rocks and throw snow balls. They’ll have plenty of time to be conflicted and miserable when they are adults – we should let them have their youth.
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You sound like a lively family! I would be interested in learning how to get the time and money to do all these things, do you have any suggestions?
Thanks for reading! Yes, its been quite a challenge. And as you know everything is an opportunity cost – my line of work has taken me to places all over, but not rich places, not EU for example but Africa and the Caucasus. The downside, we are far from grandma and grandpa (lots of skype) – and so don’t do many celebrations with them, or other family. And we are away from home (AZ) which is a place I love. Also, the places we live are often dangerous and sad. Mali and Nigeria. The upside, things are more affordable (house help, lessons) and no long commutes makes work/life balance easier. Here in the Caucasus skiing lessons cost total about 50$ including instructor, lift time and gear. I guess the key is take advantage of what you have when you have it and make the changes when feel they are required.
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Incidentally I’m not raising a Naomi either – although this little duel is quite funny. For what its worth, Naomi looks like she’d be much more pleasant to have a chat with.
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