Parenting On the Dotted Line and Over the Rainbow

Steve & I borrowed a DVD from the library called “Between the Folds”.  It’s a documentary about origami, but not just the decorative, brightly-colored little figures that school kids make.   It’s about science and mathematics and art and exploring the fusion of all those disciplines.  To learn more, click here.  One of the fascinating paper-folders interviewed is Erik Demaine, “an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Called one of the most brilliant scientists in America by Popular Science, he received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship at the age of 22. Demaine’s work combines science and art, geometry, paper folding and computational origami.”  The interview also includes footage of him with his dad, who apparently home-schooled him as a single parent and prepared him to enter college at the age of 12.  These two bear a touching family resemblance of soft-spoken, constantly smiling Geekdom, complete with pony-tails, facial hair and glasses.  It is obvious that they have enjoyed sharing a couple of decades exploring the world with bright-eyed curiosity.

I also happened upon a Mom Blog called RaisingMyRainbow.  Its blurb reads: “Adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son.”  Her son is 4 years old.  She writes with wit and whimsy and a very open attitude, chronicling how their family navigates what seems to be a mainstream suburban life with an emerging non-mainstream human being.  It seems very honest to me, no agenda, no axe to grind, no added drama, just very loving and willing to engage with what arises.

Super Kids (photo by Joe Griessler)

I am inspired by this kind of parenting, and I want this to be what I pass on to my children.  My own kids are already in their 20s, though.  But I figure it’s never too late to model something positive.  After all, they may be parents themselves some day.  My parenting models were quite limited.  Growing up in the 60s & 70s, I didn’t know one kid whose parents were divorced until I got to High School.  My dad’s own parents were divorced, but he never talked about that.  My best friend’s parents had been divorced from previous marriages, but that didn’t seem to impact their family life when I knew him.  I got the strong impression that there was a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to do everything, and the ‘wrong way’ was to be avoided at all costs.  Consequently, I complied and conformed and walked the narrow way.  It wasn’t a bad response, but it wasn’t necessarily the right response or the only reasonable response.  The difficulties with my response became apparent as my circle of awareness widened.  Other people were living other responses.  Do I tolerate, embrace, include or exclude those people?  What if some of those people are my own children?

“There are as many different ways to be a Christian as there are Christians”, my spiritual adviser told me one day.  He was a former Jesuit priest, born in India, married to a former nun, both still very active in the Catholic Church.  I couldn’t have been more astonished.  My father would never have said that.  There are as many different ways to be a parent as there are parents.  Those ways may be judged according to certain values.  To make any kind of distinctions, you really have to look at those values.  Do you value conformity?  Okay, then call it ‘conformity’.  Do you value love?  Okay, then look very closely at what you think ‘love’ is.  Does love punish?  Does love shame?  Does love reject?  Do you value certain beliefs that you respect?  Why do you respect them?  Because someone told you to?  Because they support something you’ve experienced?  There are so many good questions to consider, but it’s hard to find a safe place to consider them.  As a parent, I felt attacked, judged and defensive.  Competition crept into my parenting way too much.  I own those as my issues, but I also believe the suburban environment supported that.  Parental support groups I was in may have effectively reinforced the competition rather than offered support.

Hindsight.  I was 22 when I became a parent.  I didn’t think about a lot of this stuff beforehand.  However, I have four totally fabulous children nevertheless.   I give them credit; I give me and my husband credit; I give the Universe credit.   In general, if I lighten up on my ego, I can avoid creating stuff that’s FUBAR.  Instill wonder, curiosity, creativity.  Play alongside the kids, and step back.  We are all learning and growing up together, folding rainbows into the process.

3 thoughts on “Parenting On the Dotted Line and Over the Rainbow

  1. Coincidentally, I was pointed to just yesterday. One thing I liked about it was how she had settled on the term “gender non-conforming.” I have seen many, many children attending my classes who fit that term and I’ve seen even more who fit “fill-in-the-blank non-conforming.” I get to “socialize” them and their conforming cohorts to the extent that it takes to keep them safe navigating a busy gym full of potentially dangerous equipment. I have learned how to strip down non-violent communication conflict resolution to 3 quick phrases that can address the situation to the satisfaction of all parties and keep a squirrelly class moving. It’s not rocket surgery and there are no genius awards out there for it, but teaching kids how to get along with each other’s non-conformities makes me feel like I am making a valuable contribution to society.

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