Cheerios, jellied cranberries and vanilla ice cream: the three food groups my little brother ate growing up. He was the third of four kids and I’m sure my mom just thought, well at least he’s eating something. This same brother of mine just got married and, as my parents described to the guests at his wedding, he was the “most interesting” of their four children.
I think “interesting” encapsulated both the worry and the reward of raising a kid who saw and chose to experience the world differently. In addition to his very particular palette, he did flying leaps from the couch onto our baby brother, blamed every bad thing he did on a ghost, and carried the Guinness Book of World Records everywhere he went. In third grade, a police officer did a career day presentation to his class and at the conclusion, the officer asked if there were any questions. My brother’s hand shot up and he asked, “Can you spell the longest word in the English language?”
He followed his interests from sports to space camp to a summer job working at a senior center, soaking up stories from the retirees. After college, he moved overseas to live in the middle of the desert on an oil rig, with time off spent traveling the world.
I recently asked him what he remembers from childhood that helped kindle his own curiosity. I was looking for lessons I could apply to my own parenting and here are a few nuggets I’m going to try, too.
Library books and learning placemats at dinner sparked an early interest in geography and travel. Testing the depth of an interest with these low-cost options seems like a good first step before shelling out a lot of cash for a class or camp that could quickly lose its appeal.
Match their Enthusiasm
It can be challenging to feign interest in computer coding, Minecraft, or in my young daughter’s case, all wild animals including snakes (also my greatest fear). I’ve had to push myself into the reptile house at the zoo on more than one occasion to show her, however apprehensively, that I care about what she cares about. Again, finding them a book on their subject of choice can be a good first step.
Know When to Let Them Walk Away
Finding the balance between not quitting when things get tough and knowing when it’s time to quietly walk away is an incredibly hard distinction. My brother remembers going to baseball camp but then deciding not to try out for the team. I remember wanting to quit my kindergarten soccer team every day. My parents didn’t let me quit. But they didn’t make me ever play another season, freeing up time for activities I found more fun.
Listen, Really Listen
He remembers this most, and my brother was a talker. He’d go wandering the house spouting trivia to anyone who would listen. I’m sure it was a challenge not to answer everything with a half-hearted, “Really? You don’t say”. But he remembers thoughtful gifts and suggestions my parents made from listening to his rambles. It showed they were paying attention and that meant a lot.
One of the great joys, mysteries (and worries) of parenting is seeing who our children will grow up to be. It’s still wild for me to reconcile my brother as the puny purveyor of useless facts with the world traveler who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, skydived out of a dozen airplanes and even eaten lamb’s brain cuisine with his bare hands.
He found his own interesting match while hiking solo on the Inca Trail and we just flew halfway around the world to see them say “I do”. Knowing this particular interesting kid has certainly made me more interesting by association.
I don’t know if my children will be climbing to the summit of any great peaks or exploring the jungles in search of new snake species, but I do know I want to support them any way I can. And maybe by kindling their curiosity young, my own kiddos might just grow up to be interesting too.