The year that my children were born, The Pittsburgh Penguins won the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups. Almost every day for the better part of two years of their existence, we watched YouTube clips of highlights from their playoff runs. Now, one my children’s prized possessions is the foam hockey sticks their grandparents got them for their first birthday. Instead of requesting a Pink Fong medley whenever I pull up Youtube, they ask to watch the Penguins.
From the time they were little, instead of listening to typical children’s music selections, I would play my favorite music for them. Now in the car, the first songs they request are Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and The Black Jets’ “I Love Rock and Roll.”
Sure, like typical three-year-olds, my children can name all of the residents of the Neighborhood of Make Believe on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, but they can also identify the Millennium Falcon, Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing and Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter.
At this age, my exposing my toddlers to my favorite things in this world might seem like straight up brainwashing – that I’m trying to live vicariously through my children by molding them into tiny versions of myself. It’s so much more than that.
When I share these things with my children at such a young age, I’m introducing them to myself. I’m sharing a piece of myself through the things that I love. I’m exposing a part of my world to them in hopes that they’ll get the same joy and excitement that I did out of them. Thus far, they’ve enjoyed the things that I’ve exposed them to. Not everything, but most, and that’s ok.
I think the key is to expose our kids to our worlds, but at the same time, let them make of it what they will. In his youth, my dad was a Boy Scout. He signed me up for Cub Scouts, and I ended up sticking it all the way through until I became an Eagle Scout. I loved every minute of it. He eventually became interested in cooking, and to this day, we enjoy cooking for each other. Yet when my father took me hunting when I was a kid, I just didn’t dig it. For me, it required getting up way too early for my taste and involved a lot more patience than I had to give at that particular juncture of my life. My dad is a huge Civil War buff, yet to the teenage version of myself, his beloved Gettysburg was nothing but grass and statues. The most important thing is that he never forced me, he just simply exposed me to the things that he loved then let me form my own opinion. If it wasn’t something that interested me, we moved on to something else.
The best part was that through the process of growing up, I exposed him to part of my world. My love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles led to Martial Arts classes. When my father saw how much I enjoyed it, he signed up for classes himself. Throughout my teenage years, when most kids drift away from their parents, we found something that brought us together. To this day, we are the only father and son black belts in the school’s history.
We hope our children will love some of the things that we love. For me, I hope to one day high five and cheer with my children as the Penguins lift their sixth Stanley Cup or snuggle up on the couch and watch the entire original Star Wars trilogy over the course of a Saturday. I hope to tie black belts around their waists and pin Eagle Scout badges on their chest. I hope to attend comic book conventions and dig through boxes at flea markets. I hope that the songs I shared with them as children make it onto their playlists as adults. I hope that they want to be a part of the things that I love.
More importantly, I hope they invite me to be a part of the things that they love.