Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Seeing ourselves in our kids

My kids are getting older. It's undeniable now. We have entered the realm of acne and twenty minute showers. But luckily, for me at least, they haven't left the building yet. They still tolerate me in general, and will even acknowledge me in public. I like to think that it's because I allow them ample opportunities for expression.

I'll be truthful. My kids are, well...twisted. I'm sure it has something to do with an early introduction to Shel Silverstein and the inordinate amount of Monty Python they watched as younglings. This had an early impact. I admit, I was proud when my then 6 year old wanted to dress as King Arthur with coconuts in his hands for Halloween. Of course, Monty Python led to harder things, like The Simpson's, Family Guy and That 70's Show. Add Mythbusters and Colbert Report, plus key flicks from TCM, and well you get what I have now: a would be evil genius and one that is always looking for a punchline.

All I can do is hope that I've provided them with good references.

I was recently reminded about references when I took BART to work last week from an early morning appointment in Oakland. Those who know me, know that I prefer public transit, but not so much when it is filled with school aged kids.

Spring is field trip season. Every year starting around March, scads of backpack laden children, with yarn necklace name tags and a few anxious looking chaperons cue up for day trip adventures. I have vivid memories of these forays into the adult world. It was like glimpsing into a secret life I wasn't supposed to know about.

The children on BART seemed to be having a similar experience.

"Look, that's where my daddy works."
"There's the freeway!"
"That's the bakery!"

I tried to drown out their exclamations with my reading material, but it proved fruitless without earphones. So I pocketed my magazine and watched the activity that went with the dialogue.

The group of kids closest to me seemed to be playing some sort of game like Slug Bug. They were looking for something specific, and then punched each other in the arm when they found it. At first I thought it was cars, but that didn't seem to be it. Then I thought it could be a type of store, but that wasn't right either. It wasn't until we started heading underground that I understood what they were looking at.

As the train lowered between the two concrete walls covered with graffiti, the children suddenly oohed and awed. What they were identifying in their game were graffiti tags. This was their reference.

Reference is an interesting thing. Reference is simile. It's what we use to help us contextualize the world, a way of making things familiar. And it wasn't until this experience, that I truly understood the significance and value of reference, how it contributes to perspective and influences understanding.

I started to wonder what such a reference would yield for these children, but decided to take another crack at my reading as the train slipped underground. The noise of the transbay tunnel would surely drown out their voices.