So… that metaphorical museum I was bending your ear about 6 months ago. I’d really like to get back to that.
My apologies for the half-year delay since I posted Part 1. I’d like to say it was due to being consumed all day, every day, with curating the aforementioned museum for my son. But I’ve also been curating my fantasy football team. And curating my Twitter feed. And watching the Philadelphia Eagles curate their best 10-game stretch of football in franchise history. (All men were created equal, but as it turns out, the worthiness of all their curatorial pursuits were not.)
Before I delve into Part 2, let’s review the broad strokes of what I’ll call my Smithsonian Theory of Parenting.
What I envision is a colossal, customized museum that each parent conjures up for their children. Each respective museum is filled with exhibits that are designed and curated specifically for the child that museum was designed to benefit. Even within the same family, a different museum is designed for each child, based around what the parent believes that particular child needs to see and learn and experience in order to meaningfully understand the world.
From time to time, the child will visit other museums, featuring exhibits curated by other parents (and other adults in general). The frequency of these visits will gradually increase as the child grows up. But the primary source of substantive knowledge and moral fabric is his own parents, the curators of his vast and very own museum.
The quality of each museum’s floor plan will lay the groundwork, for better and for worse, for the child’s emotional and intellectual development. The more careful attention and heart that parents pour into designing their child’s museum layout — mapping out a variety of hand-selected exhibits; avoiding demoralizing or chaotic subject matter that the child is not yet prepared to understand — the more well-equipped the child will be to craft his own meaningful narrative as his nascent soul begins to take shape.
In short: We must curate well, because our children deserve the grandest museum tour we are able to design for them.
With this refresher out of the way, I’d like to plunge into the more vivid details of the kind of intentional parenting I’m envisioning. Hopefully I can pull this out of the realm of pure abstraction and demonstrate the nuts and bolts (after all, every building needs those!) of what I have in mind.
So what exactly are the museum exhibits that we curate for our children? The possibilities are as vast and varied as the personalities of the children we’ve been given to parent. But let’s look at some of the most straightforward examples.
I’ll start with a simple but often unexamined one: movies.
Every single movie we carefully hand-select (or half-heartedly pick from the Netflix menu) for our children to watch will function as its own small exhibit in the museum. This is because every single movie we show our kids is a vehicle that conveys truths — or inanities, or falsehoods — to their pliable and inquisitive minds. Every viewing experience we give our children carries with it some emotional or moral significance. That’s how art functions. Even crass or commercial art that doesn’t aspire to any moral weight ends up, despite itself, articulating some kind of worldview. The worst thing we can do is underestimate our children’s sponge-like ability to absorb these ideas.
As a new-ish father, I’ve been casually compiling a list I will call “Greyson’s Canon” — or “Canon in G” if I’m feeling a bit playful. It contains the movies I plan to screen for our son as he gets older. Earnest, old-fashioned adventure stories like Iron Will and The Journey of Natty Gann. Animated gems like The Iron Giant and Toy Story. Works of singular imagination like Babe and Spirited Away. Movies that teach crucial childhood lessons like Charlotte’s Web and The Fox and the Hound. And of course, the mother (or should I say, the widowed father) of all moving message movies — To Kill a Mockingbird.
Each of these lovingly selected films will depict images, sentiments, and life lessons for Greyson that will help reinforce the values that his mama and I will spend the next 17 (to 55) years conveying to him through our words and actions. As such, each film is a distinct stop on our son’s grand museum tour, offering cinematic memories that he may well remember for years or even decades to come.
I vividly recall the effect many of these movies had on me as a young boy. Some of them made me feel, others made me think; a handful of them molded me for life. Danielle and I are right on the same page in wanting to do all we can to impart similarly potent, morally freighted (and yes, fun!) movie experiences to our son.
Another exhibit in the museum is conveyed via the eardrums, without sight or touch. It’s music — another area that is crucial but often overlooked because it’s viewed by many as merely a casual, insignificant pastime.
This is an area where I have not yet been particularly rigorous. When Greyson was conceived, I conceived of a grand plan to play music for him in utero on a daily basis, laying a sonic groundwork for the development of his brain waves at the earliest possible age. But I only sporadically followed through on this plan.
I do have one vivid memory (or I should say, Danielle does) of Greyson kicking energetically in the womb while we listened to the Harrisburg Symphony perform a particularly stunning Rachmaninoff piece. We immediately assumed — rightly, if I do say so myself — that our son was not only musically inclined, but also a pre-natal prodigy.
While I haven’t yet played much music for Greyson at home (though I fully intend to), I do make a point of selecting music for our car rides that is clear-eyed, full-hearted, and buoyant — or at least underscored by notes of hope. I try to play no music within earshot of my son that is driven by angst or other murky emotions that his budding mind isn’t yet able to grasp.
I’ve long believed that a person’s headspace is the function of, among other things, all the music she hears over the course of a day (or a lifetime). And I want every aural addition to Greyson’s grey matter to bolster his sense that the world is a place where he fully belongs… that meaning is woven into the fabric of everything… that love is not only possible, but well within his grasp.
Of course, this is not what he hears. He’s 16 months old. He hears an odd cacophany of sounds that he has no discernible context for. He hears gibberish.
But I play the songs in all their gibberish-y glory for my son anyway. I play “Boy Lilikoi” by Jonsi and “Your Song” by Ellie Goulding and “Calling Out Your Name” by Rich Mullins and “Gracie” by Ben Folds (which we’ve cleverly transposed Greyson’s name into) and “Rise and Shine” by Andrew Peterson and “Lover of the Light” by Mumford & Sons and “Sycamore” by Caspian. I do what I can to tuck beautiful bits of noise into his tiny eardrums.
He’ll eventually figure out the rest. All in due time.
One final — for now — type of museum exhibit is one I’ve already deeply delved into with Greyson: outdoor adventures. (Or at least outdoor walks. But there’s no harm in calling a simple walk an adventure!)
To me, the act of outdoor exploration is the purest distillation of the Smithsonian Theory of Parenting. While carefully curated movies and music (and TV shows and books) offer a child an aspirational glimpse of humanity, only nature itself offers the chance to see the world itself as it truly is.
I take Greyson on morning walks every chance I get. Even with the post-Thanksgiving temperatures dropping, there is rarely a workday morning that I don’t bundle him up and take him outside, for as little as 5 minutes (but often for 30), and show him every grandiose and tiny thing — the sky! a caterpillar! — that I spy with my big eye on behalf of his little eye. When weather and daylight allow, we embark on family walks as well. And Danielle often takes Greyson out while I’m at work, giving him two fully distinct but equally impassioned nature guides who showcase the wonders of the world to his eager eyes.
I’ve been continually struck — probably because it’s so striking — by how hyper-aware Greyson is during our outdoor jaunts. He always appears to be wondering while we’re wandering. As I’ve said numerous times in various venues, I can count on one hand (no exaggeration) the number of times my son has been fussy or agitated while outside. Nature is like a cup of chamomile tea for him. Or a stirring symphony. It calms him, it focuses him, and it pries his eyes wide open.
The more I witness this phenomenon in my son, the more my commitment grows to offer him all the outdoor adventures his mama and I can conjure up for him as the years go by. There may be no value I am more adamant to impart to him as he grows than to see the earth in its true form — unobstructed and uncorrupted — and in doing so, to begin to sense both his humbling smallness and his ennobling significance in the grand scheme of the universe.
I want to impart to Greyson something my parents lovingly imparted to me — a wide-eyed wonder at the wide, wild world.
So there you have three examples — movies, music, and outdoor adventures — of the exhibits Danielle and I are actively curating (or planning to curate) for Greyson as he begins his slow ascent to adolescence and beyond.
The rest will have to wait until Part 3. I have a self-imposed deadline to meet.
(And a Sunday full of museum exploration on the docket.)
2 thoughts on “The Grand Tour, Part 2: My Louvre for Greyson”
Wise thinking to consider so carefully (and creatively) what is entering into Greyson’s eyes and ears in this crazy, often-non-common-sense world. And also what he’s smelling and feeling as you guys explore the outdoors! God’s created so, so much that’s positive and good for all our senses. And you need not even leave home to visit your museum!
Agreed on all counts, my brother! And as much as I adore traveling, I am indeed glad we can stay at home (and in the nearby woods & farmland & park & back roads) and curate museum exhibits galore for Greyson and eventually his baby bro/sis as well. Certainly a lot cheaper to go that route. 🙂