You Can't Do That.

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.



Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! Very cute.


3 words: science summer camp. Seriously, they have this type of camp at the YMCA. Build robots, take things apart, etc. No Mommy welding skills required :)


Don't beat yourself up too badly. When I was 5 I declared I was going to be a T-Rex (and this was the 70's before Jurassic Park and dinosaurs being cool.) My brother said he was going to be a dog catcher. Let's just say now that he's in his 30s, he's a writer (and not a big fan of dogs). Kids go through every idea imaginable. Next week it will be something else. Encourage when possible.


Cute. :) If he ever gets the bug to make games again, google Gamemaker. There's a free version on line that you can download, and it really is pretty simple. Could be very satisfying for your little scientist.


My son is so similiar and I worry too about "dashing" his dreams. Right now he's obsessed with making a movie. Yesterday he asked how much it would cost to get in the theater and can we buy a green screen! He will be 7 on Thursday!


Maybe he can't but giving him some supplies and letting him experiment for himself would go a long way to having him gain the skills to have some of his dreams come true. Many of the folks I know spent time puttering, tinkering, experimenting, etc as kids and have consequently turned into adults that are confident in using tools and making things. My mother didn't so much teach me how to sew as show me how to thread the sewing machine and keep my fingers out of the way of the needle. She'd answer questions if I asked but mostly it was just me puttering away with fabric in the basement. Consequently I'm a much more adventurous sewer than my mom.

Same with other tools an skills, give him enough guidance to be safe but make him do the hard work of design and implementation. By being exposed to the realities of the physical world - that it takes a steady hand to solder a chip onto a circuit board so that your robot gets more smarts or that knitting a sweater takes time and patience or that the laws of physics dictate practical limits on the size of a project - these realities won't become real to him until he has to make it happen, not have mom make it happen.

I also recommend something like Make magazine or any magazine for a particular craft, something that talks about projects and the steps to do them. Even if you don't do those particular projects it gets the ideas flowing. But really, make him do the work.