ack when I interviewed Ron Fugelseth about his amazing “Toy Train In Space” video, naturally the conversation turned to parenting. Without prompting he used the exact same words to describe his parenting that I constantly think of to describe my own.
“I just want my kids to be able to look back on their childhood and think, ‘That was awesome.’”
Not “good.” Not “great.” Not even “normal.”
When I look back to my own childhood, the experiences that stand out most are those that were outside the range of “normal” childhood experiences. Sure, there was the paper route. There was biking in the streets with my neighborhood friends. There were little league games and cub scout camping trips and piano lessons. All of these make up the tapestry of my childhood in the same way they do for most other kids who have similar (identical) experiences. I am grateful for those experiences.
But nothing can compare to the time that I went flying with my grandfather up in his airplane and he told me to put my hands on the co-pilot’s wheel. He showed me how it was tied to the pilot’s wheel so when he turned his wheel, mine did as well. I remember feeling my hands turn back and forth with the wheel as Grandpa steered the plane gently right and left. I remember watching out the window as the wing dipped in synchronization with the wheel turning in my hands. The wheel turned left again and the plane leveled out and then… the wheel went limp in my hands.
I looked over to Grandpa to see what was going on and he was leaning back in his pilot chair, hands *OFF* the wheel and laced behind his head, cigar puffing away and a huge smile on his face. “That’s it, buddy. You’ve got it. You’re the pilot now.”
It’s the experiences like that, the ones that every other kid on my block didn’t have, that I remember best. Those are the experiences that made my childhood awesome. Those are the experiences that I want my kids to have. Whether it’s a backyard hovercraft, or a locust dissection science lesson in 2nd grade, or building a Hobbit hole in the backyard (we just launched that project this weekend), I go out of my way to make sure my kids get as much awesome as I can give them.
For this reason I also feel a natural kinship (if not inferiority complex) to the likes of Ron Fugelseth and Mike Adamick (links provided for your convenience) who inject their steroid-infused, gamma ray creativity into their parenting to provide nothing but “awesome” for their kids. It’s a frame of mind that you can’t necessarily turn off. When I see something I think is awesome my first instinct is to share that with my children. I found myself in that position again this weekend.
Early Saturday morning I found myself at a continuing education course in the staff lounge of a local Oral Surgeon’s office with a half dozen other dentists. There we sipped coffee and orange juice while we watched a particularly interesting and complicated surgical procedure piped into the room on a 60” flatscreen in real time as the procedure was taking place two rooms away. The procedure was fascinating, but for the lay person it would be tough to get past what was essentially a very bloody procedure.
Nobody would blame you if you cringe at that sort of thing, but it was a room full of dentists. It’s what we do. Sick as it may sound, we all found the procedure completely amazing, and watching it happen in real time was totally awesome.
When the procedure was done we were each handed a flash drive with a video file of the entire procedure and, for better or worse, my very first instinct was “So cool! I can’t wait to get this back, load it up on the computer and show it to my kids!”
*needle scratch off the record* Not so fast there, Tex.
Enthusiasm is great, and I am very lucky to be in a position to provide amazing, out of the ordinary experiences for my kids. But there’s an adage in dentistry: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. My daughter is an amazing human being, with more character strengths than I ever had. But one thing she continues to struggle with is empathy.
She will bug her brothers just for the pleasure of making them scream. She will torment the incredibly patient dog just because she thinks it’s funny. If there was one scoop of ice cream left in the container she would throw elbows and pull hair to get at it first. Thus far the entire universe revolves around her and despite our best efforts to show her otherwise she has yet to figure out that there are other people in the universe, each with needs and feelings that are equally as important as hers.
So yeah… empathy. It’ll come (hopefully) but as of yet it’s still underdeveloped.
As I drove home I wondered if showing a video of a guy getting his rotten teeth pulled, his gums sliced open and peeled back and his bone shaved down to a girl who struggles with empathy might not be the best parenting decision I could make.
Long story short, I didn’t do it and it was the right decision.
Because you know… good parent first, awesome parent second.