Monday, March 7, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson

I am supposed to be sleeping, but instead I am up alone, reading a biography of Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know I'll regret it in the morning, but I can't seem to shut down for the night. 

Earlier tonight, Steve and I were talking about education of our kids.  And how sometimes I wonder that if I follow my children down these paths, hoping for passion in learning above nearly anything else...will there be these huge gaping holes I left behind?

We don't do math worksheets, my child had to beg me to teach him cursive, but we send him to Russian classes.  They build intricate structures from scratch out of Legos, but I've never once sat down and formally taught them phonics. They just kind of stumble into reading by asking the questions. I know in part I'm spoiled, because they ask me to learn things, pummel me with questions all.day.long, and have insatiable curiosity.  But still.  I'm not an organized teacher. 

Our educational path is so unconventional that there's no measure of how it's going.  We don't do public or private school, we're not really homeschoolers (in my definition)...so what are we?  They go to co-op two days a week, and Jack's SEP program at W&M, and we just do all sorts of non-quantifiable learning elsewhere. 

I tell myself that if you're passionate enough about learning, you'll fill in those gaps.  I wasn't a committed student.  School was a terrible fit for me. But at age 32, I'm unable to go to bed because I can't put down a biography of an astrophysicist from the Bronx.  Or reading every scrap of information I can find about immune systems and gut flora.  While the passion for getting good grades didn't happen until late college, that passion for information-seeking must be there.

When I think about what I want from my children's future learning, it really IS about passion.  It's not about having a conventional education, it's about having educational hunger and doing something they deeply love. 

That's why I love Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Seeing him speak, I could feel that he was in that profession not because it was the one his parents or society wanted...but because he couldn't keep himself away from it.  Like when I went back to graduate school, because I figured I might as well get credits for all the economics reading I was doing. 

I don't care what my children become, but I want them to know who they are.  And I want to give them the tools to find that out.

I loved one particular part of Neil's book.  On the heels of my conversation with Steve, this came at a perfect time.  His parents were not scientists, so they couldn't teach him the specifics of what he loved.  But they supported him in what he loved.  That's the model I want to have in my motherhood:

I must have had the first ever "soccer mom," except the activity wasn't soccer, it was after-school astronomy.  With my telescope, camera, and other observing accessories, I would drag both of my parents (separately and together) in and out of cars, up and down stairs, in and out of fields, and to and from the library, all in the support of my astrohabit.

I will not soon forget when I was building my wooden Saturn lamp in seventh grade.  My mother and I drove to at least six different hardware stores one afternoon just to acquire the necessary, but unusual, electrical conduit that threads pole to pole through the wooden orb.

Furthermore, most weekends we would visit one of the city's many museums, and my parents were always on the lookout for affordable math and science books.

My parents never told me where to go or what to learn, which ensured that my life's interests were pure.  To this day, my parents remain two of the most warm and caring parents I have known.

If only every child had this type of parents, no matter what the future career - artist, scientist, writer, whatever.  Love it.

Loving our doodleheads

There are things Steve can do in parenthood that I'm completely unable to do well.  Wrestle, for one.  After a few tackle attempts, I'm not sure what else to do.  I try, but it doesn't come naturally.  Watching Star Wars marathons without wanting to die of boredom, for another.  

And bigger things, too. He finds most joy in being gone at work, providing for the family. That nourishes his fathering spirit, to work hard for us.  I love my job and doing what I do, but I'd feel so much stress having the family depend on my income. That fuels him, to provide for us.  I really appreciate that about him.

I think what I value most in the co-parenting, though, is that there is another person in the world who loves these little sprouts as much as I do.

I love Steve for many reasons, and most of them pre-date children.  In fact, the only reason I really craved children (before meeting them) was that I wanted to make Little Persons with him.  It was my wifehood, not my motherhood, that drove that decision.

Children bring this whole new facet to marriage, in ways I couldn't have quite fathomed.  It's true that there are some days we run circles around each other...maybe even sharing space all day, like on the weekends, without really getting to sit down and talk.  And when we do, they're often conversations to swap notes about child-stuff.

Romance in the typical sense is definitely hard to find.

But what surprises me most in marriage and in parenthood:  How deeply connecting it is to love little persons with your spouse.  To see him become a father.  To know you can call him during the day and leave a voice mail with a Funny Kid Story, and know there's no way he could listen without laughing out loud.  How his heart melts at his daughter, coming into the kitchen with her sparkly-purse and plastic high heels. Watching him give piggy-back rides for the 1,235th time that day, just to hear them giggle.

That deep, aching, almost-painful love I feel for my children?  He's feeling it in the same depth on his end, about the same little doodleheads.

And when we roll our eyes at each other, across the munchkin-heads running screaming through the living room?  I know that behind our shared need for quiet and calm and wishing they'd just go.to.sleep...he would take a bullet for those same screaming monkeys without batting an eye.

Loving these children with the man who helped make them really IS the most romantic thing we've ever done together.