Thursday, July 24, 2014

Geeks and Crabs

Bubba, at age 9, is an unabashed geek.  It’s one of the things I love most about him.  His current obsessions are Legos and anything and everything science-related, and as an extension (of design, construction, and physics), he loves engineering, though he doesn’t yet know to label it as such.

There are two ways Mister and I know when Bubba is in full-on geek out mode: He talks non-stop about a subject, and he starts bouncing.  He has been known to get so excited about his latest modifications to a Lego creation that he will, quite literally, follow me around the house explaining each change in great detail, barely stopping to take a breath.  When Bubba decided to see what bacteria he could culture from swabs taken around our house, he couldn’t stand still as Papa and I explained proper plating techniques.

I’m a science geek myself, so when Bubba wanted to start a “museum” of fossils and rocks and feathers and such in his closet, I didn’t hesitate to say “yes.”  When we were at the Field Museum recently and Bubba asked questions about the cell division exhibits, I had his full attention as I talked for ten minutes about mitosis vs. meiosis and sexual vs. asexual reproduction… until Mister pulled me away so we could be sure to see the Hall of Dinosaurs while we still had time.

But truth be told, as much as I adore Bubba’s geekiness, sometimes I find it a bit, well, tiresome.  At the boys’ request, I’ve sat down with them a few times to play Legos and have have been bored out of my mind.  They created landscapes and museums and ships.  And I made a box.  Not a very good one either.  My eyes might even occasionally glaze over when they show me yet another Lego creation that I cannot distinguish from the preceding dozen but that they insist is ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.  And when Bubba thrusts design after design for a rocket or a crossbow under my nose, I try to express interest, but I know so little about physics that I can’t begin to have a meaningful conversation about which design elements will work and which won’t and what chemical reaction would be safe enough but strong enough to provide the needed thrust. 

So when Bubba announced at dinner the other night that he was going to use the remains of our lobster dinner to go crabbing the next day, Mister’s and my response was something along the lines of “Mmm hmm, sure, that’s fine.”  I’m not even sure what he said really registered.  But the next day, he headed over to the boathouse to see what he could scrounge up for a crab trap.  He came back with a small, flat net to which he had hooked some ropes.  He excitedly explained that he was going to fill the net with “lobster guts,” lower it to the floor of the cove off the float, wait for the crabs to crawl in, and then raise the net.  “It’s simple, but I hope it’s effective,” he wished aloud over his creation.

Froggy was all in; he was as sure this would work as Bubba was.  I mustered a smile and a “Well, we’ll see what happens!”  Mister walked to the float with all the boys to get them off to a safe start but quickly came back and said, “We’ll see how long this lasts.”  Monkey announced that he “hated” crabbing.

Approximately two minutes later, there was a commotion, as the boys ran around, gathering additional supplies from the house and boathouse…

They had caught two crabs.

I hurried down to the float with Mister close behind me, and we watched as the boys caught crab after crab.  Froggy lowered the net to the floor of the cove.  The tide was too high for him to hold the ropes AND spread the net on the floor, but they had discovered it didn’t matter.  The crabs would crawl to the net, reach in for the lobsters, and get stuck for just long enough that the boys could hoist them out of the water.  As Froggy carefully raised the net, Bubba would slip an old, plastic flowerpot under the net to catch the crabs, then dump them in a pot filled with sea water.  Simple but effective, indeed.

“And to think, I designed this all by myself!” he beamed.

As Mister and I watched, we both confessed our previous doubts to Bubba and apologized.  Our penance was clear: We added steamed crabs to the evening menu.

As I watched Bubba proudly pick the tiniest bits of meat out of the crabs, I thought about how easy it is to encourage our children in their interests when they align with our own and how difficult it can be when their interests differ.  Maybe it’s because we honestly don’t know how to begin to support the interest.  Maybe it’s because, never having experienced such depth of interest (in the same subject or another, at this age or another), we doubt its sincerity or question its longevity.  Maybe we think the interest is frivolous and unimportant.

I’m relieved that Bubba’s confidence overrode my lukewarm response.  I’m glad that, for my many parenting faults, one thing I think I usually get right is providing lots of space and raw materials for unstructured play and exploration.  But most of all, I’m grateful for Bubba’s powerful reminder to me that his interests are something to be celebrated, not just tolerated.

I can’t pretend that I’ll no longer find conversations about Legos to be anything other than mind numbing, but maybe next time, that won’t stop me from pausing to really look at Bubba’s latest creation and the excitement on his face.  When Bubba chases me out the door on my way to Target to ask me to buy Mentos and Diet Coke for his latest rocket design, I hope I remember to rejoice in his love of engineering, rather than sigh at my growing shopping list.   Because even if I don’t share all of his interests, one thing I can get behind wholeheartedly is his excitement and curiosity -- the look of wonder on his face when he learns something new, his pride in seeing a project from idea through planning and execution to completion, how quickly he talks when theories he’s been noodling tumble out of him.  After all, that is part of what makes Bubba uniquely, beautifully himself.

Which reminds me... Does anyone know where I might stock up on supplies for building crossbows?

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