Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Non-Standard Childhood

Yesterday Tabitha and I got into a conversation about childhood.  Specifically her childhood, and how odd it has been. 

I’m not sure what triggered this train of thought in her, but our conversation started with her remembering a time when she was over at a friend’s house a few years ago and suddenly felt like drawing something.  “Where’s your paper and pens?” she asked.  Her friend stared at her blankly while she repeated this request a few times.  Eventually it occurred to Tabitha that perhaps not every household suffers from the sort of office-supply manifestations that are so common in a house full of academics.

There is, for example, a stack of scrap paper roughly two feet high by the side of my desk even as I type this, and everyone in the house knows that as long as they don’t mind writing on the other side of old lecture notes, assignments, or drafts of handouts, they can have as much of it as they want.

Don’t even get me started on the tide of pens that flows through the house, depositing random writing implements on – and occasionally under – every flat surface and within every hollow space.  Come the apocalypse, we will take notes.

But in many ways she is right – she has had a rather odd childhood so far. 

In an era where the average American reads less than four books a year and a disturbingly large percentage of Americans haven’t read a book since they fled high school in a panic, she has grown up in a house where the most numerically common items are probably books and has read a surprising percentage of them.  She’s had a library card since she was two.

She has traveled and seen how people who are not Americans live their lives.  It’s not like here.  She can count as friends people who live halfway across the globe, and all over the country as well.  She’s lived through a hurricane, an earthquake, and tornado season, all in the same year. 

She had a frequent flier card by the time she turned one.

She has read Vonnegut.  She knows who Mondrian was and what his paintings look like.  She can quote Doctor Who.

There are times when I would like to think that all of this amounts to something better than the usual childhood but when you get down to it, really, it’s just different rather than better.  Those are two independent variables.  And that is perhaps the lesson after all.

Familiar and normal are not the same things.  Different is interesting.  Having a perspective on life that isn’t the same as the people around you is worthwhile simply for the opportunities it creates, even if it’s just the opportunity to draw something on a moment’s notice. 

Welcome to our family.  We do odd things for odd reasons.  And we enjoy ourselves that way.


Anonymous said...

One part of your blog confused me ... the part where you suggest that not everyone has stacks of papers, pens, and art supplies sitting around free for all ... also where you seem to suggest that not everyone has books (most having been read) serving not only as end tables, but as art, coasters, decor, and in some cases pillows. Odd. What is it that these other families do? Clearly, you are mistaken.
Otherwise, not only a fine blog - but fine children to boot. Keep up whatever it is that you're doing.

David said...

Ah, Jamie, there's a reason we're friends. :)

vince said...

I grew up with books, have more books than I have room to properly store, even with both Ann and I having Kindles and lots of books on them. Our daughter has carried on the tradition (she was read to and had books on cassette when younger), and her children all have plenty of books as well.

Short of having a severe reading disability (and I do have a friend with such a disability) I don't understand people who don't or rarely read, and with the one exception, don't have a single friend who doesn't read a lot.

David said...

Your house sounds a lot like mine, Vince. That's a proper way to run a house, I think.

I always feel vaguely sorry for people who neither need nor want to read, because they are missing so much that is right there for the asking.

adjunctmom said...

My son, now the ripe old age of eight, walked into a new friend's house shortly after he turned three and asked in his "quiet but not really" voice, "where are the books?"

Historically, friends come here once are frightened by the sheer number of books in the house and flee never to return. He has learned some social skills since then, but woe to those who attempt to spell something in front of him or his four year old sister, my husband and I have resorted to foreign languages they haven't learned yet :)

TimBo said...

I discovered today that many families don't even eat together but all eat in front of various screens. The kids don't learn conversational skills, they don't burn how to play with electric devices, and have difficulty interacting with live people. Books are completely foreign objects to them, and all together this causes of problems in school.

My kids may have learning difficulties but they all love books and know how to play without electronic devices. What good is family if you don't spend some time together?

David said...

Adjunctmom - Honestly, I have the same reaction as your son when I walk into houses with no books. And if your friends can't handle the books in your house, how can they be expected to handle you?

TimBo - we're generally pretty tolerant about books at breakfast, since nobody in our house really wants to talk at that hour. Less so at lunch. Never at dinner. And rarely screens at any meal, unless there is something specific we all want to see or look up (sometimes the conversation wanders into uncharted territory that way). Meals are important, and not just for the nutritive value - they are important for the relationships they create.