by Risa Green
My son is a big thinker. And by “big,” I don’t mean that he thinks often. I mean that he thinks on a large scale. He’s one of those kids who has entire worlds going on in his head – give him a stick, or a rock, or a cheap action figure, and he can entertain himself for hours. I’ve always loved this about my son; he’s creative, he’s a non-conformist, and he always sees the big picture. But lately, his ideas have started to become, well, too big for me to handle, I guess, and it’s starting to cause me some serious parenting angst.
It started about two weeks ago, when he came home from school and declared that he wanted to make a video game. Not play a video game, but make a video game. I tried to be encouraging, and to direct him more towards coming up with ideas for a video game, as opposed to creating an actual video game. But he was not having it. He insisted that he wanted to make a video game, which he could then play, on the computer, or, even better, on Wii. I told him that I didn’t know how to do that, and he just looked at me like I was a total moron. And in this totally duh tone of voice he was all, mom, just type making video games into the computer and it will tell you how to do it. And I was like, okay, where do I even start? I tried explaining to him that while this was a great suggestion, it would not, in fact, work, because in order to make video games you need to learn computer programming, and then you need to make it compatible for Wii, and while you can, indeed, ask the computer to tell you many things, how to make video games is not one of them. Or at least, not one of them that I am capable of understanding. And so I suggested that we play some Wii Sports Resort, and we did, and he forgot about it.
Until the next week, when he woke up one morning all excited, because he had this great idea to build a robot and control it with an old TiVo remote control that he found in a drawer. Once again, I tried to re-direct. What if we make a robot out of cardboard boxes and pretend that the remote control is controlling him? And once again, I got the look. That’s boring, he said. I don’t want to pretend. I want to make a real robot. Out of metal. And, he added, I want him to be able to walk, and talk, and clean my room and build a really big house for my teacher because she lives in a small apartment. Oh, and I also want him to make you some pretty gold earrings and a matching necklace, because I know you like gold jewelry. And so, after mopping my melted heart up off of the floor, I gently explained to him, again, that this was not something that I know how to do, because I, in fact, am a writer who nearly failed every science class I ever took, and in order to do what he wants, he would need to have a mommy with a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. Not to mention welding tools and a protective face mask.
But as I was listening to myself say all of this, (again) I felt like that teacher in Charlie Brown, the one who just sounds like mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah. And even worse, I felt like the most horrible mom in the world for telling my little five year old boy (again) that sorry, you can’t. Because really, as parents, aren’t we told that we should always tell our kids that they can do anything? Aren’t we supposed to encourage their interests and stimulate their minds, and here I am with this kid who clearly wants to build and invent things, and I just keep telling him he can’t?
With visions of my son on a therapist’s couch in twenty years, complaining about how his mother did irreparable damage to his self-esteem by repeatedly telling him that he was incapable of pursuing his passions, I went to the toy store and found a make your own robot kit. And oh, my God, you should have seen the look on his face when I showed it to him after school. And so we sat down, and we (I) followed the directions, and we (I) built the robot, with a motor and wires and a crank and everything, and we (I) were very impressed with my formerly science-failing self when I turned the crank and the robot actually moved and I looked up victoriously and said to my son, we did it! We built an actual robot!
But instead of rejoicing with me over our creation, he raced out of the room. And when he came back, he had his old TiVo remote control in his hand, which he promptly pointed at the robot, commanding it to clean up his room. Which, of course, it didn’t. And so my son declared it not a very good robot, AT ALL. And then he took the whole thing apart and told me that he had a great idea! He would attach the motor from the robot to the telephone, and then the robot would answer the phone and talk to people, and it’s going to be so cool, and can I help him do it? I just sighed, and I told him that I’m sorry, but I can’t.