“Mom, can I borrow some paper? I've decided to write a book.”
This is encouraging. I have just spent an entire summer forcing Amy to read in half-hour increments, time she mostly spent updating me on her progress one page at a time. Amy is a reluctant reader, just as she is a reluctant eater of vegetables and a reluctant brusher of teeth.
I'm thinking my constant harping about reading finally is paying off in a new affection for all things literary. “You're writing a book? What's it about?” I ask.
Perhaps reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods has her interested in historical fiction. Or maybe she's been inspired by Anne Mazer's Amazing Days of Abbey Hayes series to write a contemporary story about a girl like herself.
“I'm writing an advice book for kids,” she says.
I might have known.
“What kind of advice are you going to offer?” I try to hide the suspicion in my voice.
“Well…” She takes a breath and puts one hand on her hip. “You know how you are always giving parents advice on how to raise their kids to be geeks? I'm going to give kids advice on how to make their parents cool.”
She grabs more paper than she needs from the computer printer, reaches for the box of art supplies in my supply closet and goes to work, leaving me to wonder: “Is she writing from personal experience or wishful thinking?”
Being cool is important to Amy, which is ironic, given the parenting philosophy my husband and I employ.
Long ago, we realized that children who are “geeks” seem more innocent and less cynical than “cool kids.” Without the burden of maintaining a cool image, geeks are free to enjoy watching the History Channel, playing chess with Grandpa, collecting rocks, and pretending to be mad scientists with their own chemistry sets.
We've worked hard as parents to assure that our children aren't able to live a cool lifestyle. This isn't as easy as it sounds, because children can graze on our cool culture the way cows graze on grass. It's everywhere.
Still, our goal is to promote substance over style, innocence over exploitation and a genuine experience of childhood instead of a short period as miniature adults.
Admittedly, achieving the goal of raising geeks may be easier for us than for some people. My husband was co-captain of the Academic Bowl team in high school, and I developed an early and outspoken interest in politics. Our gene pool is predisposed to the development of news junkies who spout trivia, two hallmarks of being a geek.
Nevertheless, geek genes aren't enough in a culture as cool as 21st century America, so we also shelter our children to the extent we're able. This way, they have time to grow into their own personalities and interests before cultural barometers such as Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards tell them how to behave and what trends to follow.
In fact, I thought we were doing a pretty good job of imparting our geek values to our children until I read the first draft of Amy's book.
Here is Amy's advice for children to train their parents to be cool:
Step No. 1: Get them some cool shades.
Step No. 2: Sequins. (Apparently no elaboration is necessary).
Step No. 3: Get them some “bling.”
Step No. 4: Fill them in on trends.
Step No. 5: Help them when it's time to shop. (Illustration of hip clothes.)
Step No. 6: Tell them to say things that are cool. (Example, “Yo!”)
Step No. 7: Update them on fashion. (Clearly my daughter doesn't like the way I dress).
Step No. 8: Tell them to wear black. (Duh. Even a geek mom knows to wear black).
Step No. 9: Tell them what's in. (Isn't this the same as Step No. 4?)
Step No. 10: Tell them not to try too hard.
I'm picturing myself ambling the aisles of the grocery store, wearing sunglasses, “bling” and the latest pencil-legged jeans with the trendiest stiletto heels, saying things like, “Yo, deli guy, can I please have some shaved ham?”
Yet I'm not supposed to try too hard?
I decide it's better to encourage Amy's interest in writing than to discourage her preoccupation with the culture of cool.
“This is a great book,” I tell Amy after reading it. “I especially like the pictures and the way you used my metallic silver marker on all the pages.”
It's obvious I have work to do in helping my youngest child develop her own sense of individuality. Her advice book suggests more than a passing interest in one's appearance as an important facet of self-esteem.
Or maybe she just thinks I need a makeover. Hard to say.
She bounds out of the room to find a three-ring binder for her book. I decide to suggest she write a story about a mom and daughter going on a shopping trip better to ease her into fiction with something she's passionate about rather than dismiss her ideas as trite. (She does have a point about wearing black, after all.)
Besides, I'm not really worried that my daughter is destined for life in the fast lane.
At the tender age of 8, she may be a fashion maven, but deep inside beats the heart of a geek.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 19 years and mother of four children from fourth grade to senior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)