To begin, three caveats are in order:
1.) I’m still a newbie parent. My son is 10 months old. I’ve experienced roughly 1.03% of the situations I will ultimately experience as a dad. I get that.
2.) Trying to express comprehensive philosophies of parenting at this stage is inherently pretentious. “You haven’t yet experienced [insert parenting difficulty here]” is a valid and perfectly understandable rebuttal to premature parental pomposity. My vantage point is limited. Humility is essential. I get that.
3.) Building a prologue out of caveats is a crutch of the neurotic writer and runs the risk of turning off casual readers immediately. I get that.
Okay. Just like those guys that pull a huge tarp over the baseball field when there’s a rain delay, I think I’ve now… <clears throat> …covered all of my bases. Onto the subject at hand!
There are exactly as many parenting approaches out there as there are parents.
We who are dads and moms each view the prism of childhood from a different angle. This is partly a result of how our own parents constructed our own childhood, and partly a result of the core values we’ve subsequently come to hold as preeminent. So the approach we take in raising our kids is molded both by experiences beyond our control — our childhood, which was imparted to (or inflicted upon) us — as well as carefully selected true-north values that are well within our control. This varies for every parent, everywhere.
My own childhood world, as best as I can remember it, was a wonderland of books, friends, basketball, school, church, biking and general outdoor exploration, giddily anticipated family outings and epic-sized road trips, and above all: unwavering parental love that safely hemmed me in on all sides. (There was also a boy doll named Freddy who kept me company in the absence of a family dog. And an odd amount of Mad Libs.)
The unsavory memories I do have from my first decade on earth, such as being verbally bullied during my 2 years in public school, are exceptions to the rule and have not scarred me noticeably. There are other, more complex layers to my adolescent development, to be sure, but for my purposes here I want only to convey the extent to which my parents bequeathed upon me a largely blissful childhood.
Such a childhood, I grant you, does not qualify me to expound at great length about what it is like to be an average American adolescent growing up in the ’80s. I was one of the fortunate few, born to (salt of the earth!) parents who built their lives around me and my (largely non-violent!) older brothers. It was, by all accounts, a charmed early life.
What I am qualified to do, though, as we all are, is assess what kind of childhood I want to give my son in light of my own formative years. My attempt to do so is based on some empirical evidence, derived from lessons learned during my early months as a dad, but mostly just my gut instincts about what matters most in life. I am grateful that my wife and I are a united front in this crucial area.
So below I will outline a rough sketch (which for now is largely metaphorical) of how I view my new, long-anticipated role as a parent.
I see myself and my wife as curators of a vast museum.
How vast? Picture the largest museum you can imagine, then multiply that exponentially — the Louvre plus the Smithsonian, times the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A truly colossal edifice! The kind of place you could get happily lost in for days on end.
Our child is given exclusive access to this cavernous museum, although we offer him a generous supply of guest passes so that he can invite his friends for field trips or overnight visits. Indeed, if we prove to be skilled in the art of museum curation our child may well be eager to share the experience with his friends.
Conversely, our child will from time to time be invited to his friends’ museums, which we will gladly allow and encourage once we have met our fellow curators and ensured that they roughly share our basic curatorial values. (Knowing, as we do, that certain museum exhibits can at times be harsh and demoralizing, we will monitor our child’s wanderings closely at this tender age.) But our child’s primary influence will be the museum that we, the deeply invested curators, lovingly craft for him over time.
As you might imagine, a museum this gargantuan in size takes the better part of a decade for our child to explore. There are hundreds of floors and sub-floors, secret trapdoors and passageways, hidden attics and a subterranean basement; perhaps even a mysterious portal here and there. The imagination can run wild in a place like this! Although there are millions of other museums nearby and all around the world, our child has no shortage of explorable territory in his very own, highly customized museum. And explore he will, to his heart’s content. (To be sure, our child’s 10-month-old self is already exploring his museum’s introductory exhibits every waking moment of the day.)
As our child grows older and approaches the second decade of his life, he will maintain full access to the museum we have laid out for him. Indeed, we will continue to unveil new exhibits and update the old ones in order to fully engage his deepening awareness of the world around him.
But we will also begin to grant him more freedom to independently wander into nearby museums, of both known and unknown origin. What he sees at these other museums will both expand and at times obscure his perspective. He will learn of things his mom and I could never have taught him, given our inherently limited curatorial scope. The experience he gains interacting with these new exhibits will prove invaluable, although some of them will burden him and sully his innocence.
This is to be monitored but not gravely feared. After all, our child’s decade of experience in the museum we built for him, if we have done our job with thoughtfulness and love, has laid the groundwork for all of his subsequent exploration. He has been given a compass pointing to true north — all the beauty, love, meaning, and joy we have curated for him — and that will be his reference point until he grows old enough to build his own independent worldview.
So every day you wake up, envision what you want your child’s museum to look like. Build it out of your love and your imagination. And curate its exhibits as if you will never be given a more important task in life.
Then sit back and enjoy as your child embarks on the grand tour.
This concludes Part 1. My work week is approaching quickly, and sleep beckons. Part 2 will expand on the specifics of museum curation, including what the exhibits themselves look like — a vital detail of my metaphor that my lengthy prelude precluded me from arriving at tonight! I’ll also reflect on how I hope to, with great affection, begin to construct and unveil these exhibits for my own little boy.
I hope you’re able to envision what I’m describing, even though at this midway point in the blog post the museum remains decidedly abstract (and its rooms remain decidedly empty). I promise I will fill them in Part II.
Thank you so much for reading! I’m deeply grateful for anyone who stuck around long enough to read this sentence. If you want to share your own reflections or otherwise engage the subject I’d be honored if you left a comment below. And again: thanks.
6 thoughts on “The Grand Tour, Part 1”
I stuck around for that sentence. Bravo Jeremy! Your writing skills are excruciatingly beautiful; they are savagely affable. In all seriousness, you possess a gift with words that is truly extraordinary.
Thanks very much, Kevin. That is exquisitely magnanimous of you to say, and I am monumentally grateful to you for your overwhelmingly generous and wrenchingly inspiring words. 🙂
Greyson is in for a treat! This is truly a unique generation when the world is literally at their fingertips when curiosity arises and logistics limit the physical scope of that exploration. Enjoy the tour! The second decade is certainly different from the first, but such a joy as you see the fruit of the first decade of exploration. We are so enjoying the wide-eyed wonder of Joel while feeding the endless curiosity and love of learning for our teenaged Kara. I hope the two newest explorers can enjoy many adventures together in the years to come.
I hope so too, Valerie! Thanks for bringing your always-vibrant perspective to bear on this subject, which I know is as close to your heart as it is to mine. I am hopeful that our Greyson and your Joel will be torch-bearers for their brand-new generation (as well as Kara for her not-quite-as-brand-new generation) in ways we can only imagine.
A vast museum. Good analogy. Looking back on the past 18.5 years years of parenting, we’ve learned quite a bit about this museum, including areas to avoid (sometimes the hard way). Watching old home videos is a fun way to bring back good memories! (hey, you guys are a nice part of those memories!) And I sure agree with your assessment of our own childhood explorations.
I hope we can manage to pinpoint those avoidable spots with as much precision as we can, but of course “the hard way” is the inevitable way sometimes. Our own childhood museum was always lovingly curated, and our explorations always felt epic. Thanks for the reply (and the read), brother!