There are moments when I feel as if I am raising my children in a foreign country.
We are fortunate enough to live in a large, diverse city where it is quite easy to find like-minded parents as long as one knows where to look: the literature and writing magnet elementary school, the cooperative preschool on the far north side, fellow Macalester College alums, and the local Unitarian Universalist church are fine examples.
And yet of course, the “real world” is all around us, at all times. There is nothing bad about this, in fact we value it pretty highly. If everyone around us shared all of our values and our parenting style, I’d be unhappy. After all, a large U.S. city can only handle so many candlelit dinners and family nights without television before falling apart at the seams. We’re the freaking Whos down in Whoville, except taller and with more hair. Really, can you picture them all holding hands in a circle and singing on Christmas morning? Yeah.
There are times, though, when my kids are exposed to something that really makes me aware of our differences in a more “Boy, we are awkward, aren’t we?” kind of way. The cold January night when I attempted to expose Baxter to the Superbowl, for example. That didn’t go so well, as you might remember. And how about the time I took the boys to a McDonald’s drive-thru for the first time, just last summer? That was also well-executed. (Snort.)
Sometimes we’ve made the choice to open the door to certain aspects of mainstream culture we’d rather do without because the time seemed right – Pokemon books and cards when they became all the rage in first grade? Fine. The introduction to McDonald’s last year? Sure, okay, but it’s only for rare occasions. Until that day, Baxter used to point to a McDonald’s PlayLand and say, “Hey, look at that cool playground over there!” causing us to stare with wide-eyed disbelief, eyes asking, “Can you believe our luck?”
It happened again the other day. This time it was fried chicken that brought our Who-ness to light. A friend of Baxter’s started to tell us about the great fried chicken his family had bought to share with his grandparents, who were in town. Fried chicken was decidedly not the main point of his story, but we shot that all to hell. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the confusion on Baxter’s face: fried…chicken? He’s never heard those words together, I realized. Oh, shit, we’ve never had fried chicken.
“Umm, Baxter, do you know what fried chicken is?” I asked. He said, “No,” so I described it to him. I watched his friend’s eyes bug out and could hear his inner voice saying, “Good God! First no cable TV and now this?” All he said audibly was, “Innnteresting….” Interesting, indeed.
Baxter doesn’t care that he’s not up on the latest and greatest of American culture. He asked me what American Idol was the other day, and in a generous mood I offered to watch it with him later that night because I thought he’d probably find it entertaining and sometimes I just feel bad for the kid. (I’ve never seen it, either.) He declined, and said he’d rather read. The short-term novelty of the TV watching idea had worn off rather quickly for me, so I was relieved. But he doesn’t feel left out or worried that he’s missing anything, so he doesn’t ask for things we don’t give him and he buys into the limitations we put on those little secrets we let him in on, like McDonald’s.
Quite often I feel proud of the fact that Baxter is being raised differently, with a certain fresh-faced, old fashioned quality about him, but at times I worry that he’s far too innocent, especially given that he’s a city kid. Those are the moments when I wonder if we should be eating some fried chicken in front of American Idol once in a while, just so he knows what his friends here in America are talking about.