…What if the village you live in consists of older, more business savvy parents than yourself? I understand the entire meaning of the statement is that it takes a lot of people and experiences to mold our children’s values and beliefs but the statement itself seems very archaic. There are people that I wouldn’t want teaching my kid anything. I know many of them personally.
Some background: Between the ages of 12 and 16 I worked for a group called The Traveling Story Teller. The Traveling Story Teller consisted of 3 (sometimes 4) people performing a puppet show, telling a story and doing a craft with young kids. The group employed different young adults in order to help the two women who started it. The traveling Story Teller herself is an elementary teacher who’s on a mission to promote literacy throughout the entire state of Vermont (and eventually the world!). These puppet shows would run on spring breaks or weekends, when ever school was on break.
During the summer, the two directors would turn over two to three weeks of their lives in order to wrangle a dozen teenagers into an acting squad and perform around Vermont. We were know as “Backpack Theater”. Again, in order to promote literacy to kids. Because of the state in which we live, many of the communities we performed in were..lets say..on the lower end of the wealth spectrum. But we were not limited by that. The shows were more than just your average library performance. I remember our directors received an email after one show from a mom who said her kids were so impacted by the play that they came down stairs dressed as the dragon character from our play. All of us felt as though we were inspiring a younger generation to read, learn and be creative. And in turn, the reaction of the kids turned us into believers of what we were actually doing. Being part of this troupe is a major contribution to who I am now. My directors taught me about how to conduct myself in a professional manner as well as how to have fun with the space you’re in and most importantly, how to hone a creative ambition into something more. It was one of the best experiences I could ever of had at such a young age.
Now as an adult, I’ve been wanting to see the troupe perform. Let’s call it nostalgia. So far I have missed the summer plays and felt it might be a bit creepy if I showed up to a puppet show for preschoolers and just watched. I know for certain that the directors would have embraced my presence but it was the parents I was worried about. Then, I had a kid. The Traveling Story Teller came to my local library one morning after Christmas and I decided it would be ridiculous of me not to go.
I was the first to show. And in classic acceptance, I was let in early by the directors so they could meet my son and we could get a good seat. The Story tellers have gotten quite the reputation and the shows tend to fill up the libraries’ small rec rooms. I thought maybe I’d sit on one of the colorful mats on the ground but then decided my back would not be grateful to me afterwards. That’s when the crowd started filing in. The kids remember, are mostly in the preschool age. The really young kids have accompanied their older brothers or sisters and are sitting on the laps or being held by their parents. Their parents could not be more disenchanted to be at a puppet show. I am the only parent in the crowd under the age of 40, no bullshit. The room, a microcosm of the town in which I live, is filled with people who decided to have kids later in life. Now, there is nothing wrong with having kids later in life. I know a couple of very great parents who decided for one reason or another to have kids later. The parents I’m sharing the rec room with seem very different from the other “older parents” I know. They have the look about them that says their careers come first. I have judgmentally thought that they have decided to go in late to the office today so they could spend a couple hours with their children. They are adorned in professional garb and office casual wear. Someone is wearing a tie. Their children are loud and intrusive. They get their energy out with the “wiggle” that the story tellers hope will drain the kids in order for them to be able to sit through a ten minute story. During the actual puppet show though, the kids are starting to lose interest. Looking around in the dark, I’m guessing these kids spend a lot of time in front of the television. Jude is intrigued enough with the puppets to make small outburst of excited sounds. As he watched the show, the kids fidget with their mats and their parents faces were illuminated by the phones they so desperately cling to (something I too, tend to be guilty of). Now this isn’t all the parents. I look around and see one is sleeping. SLEEPING! I understand being a parent is tiring and sometimes there is stuff that needs to get done. But spending time with your kid should mean actually spending time with them. I really think most of these parents see the puppet show as another baby sitter so they can get something done. Yeah, makes sense to me. Why oh why would you want to engage with your kid so they can learn something from a puppet show and a story when you could be answering emails. Why would you want to pay any amount of attention?
There is one woman who I decided to hate. Looking at her, she was everything in a parent I didn’t want to be. She wasn’t sleeping, she wasn’t on her phone. She was hovering on the edge of her chair, two feet from her son. Her son was one of the few kids actually watching the show. He appeared to be about 6 years old. His hands were comfortably folded under his chin as he looked up at the Gingerbread Man running away. I could tell by observing her movements that this mother was concerned for her son. She was concerned the floor was to hard, the dimness was to dark and that his glasses weren’t thick enough. I recognized this in the relationship because its the same overprotectiveness that I came to know as a child. I knew this mother would worry about this kid every second of every day, so scared he might get harmed in some way. He would long to be left alone while she covered him in more and more shelter until the day when he finally has and enough and blows his way out of the fucking hobbit hole that has been crushed in around him. And on that fateful day he will explore and be bruised and have life experiences that actually mean something!!
During this thought, the sad truth was set in stone for me as well as that kid. The mother lifted herself from the one inch of chair she had been using as a launch pad and touched her son gently on the shoulder. “Are you cold? Do you need your jacket?” The kid shook his head. She sat down. Knowing her son could not make the decisions he needed to about his body temperature she leaned forward. I really don’t know why she just didn’t get off the goddamn chair, her lean made her look like some alien giraffe. “Are you sure your not cold?”
“I’m fine.” The kid answered, turning his attention back to the show. She fell back into her inch. She was not done though. As quietly as she could she grabbed his jacket from underneath her chair and walked it over to him placing it on his shoulders. “Just in case.” She whispered.
You poor bastard. I thought. You poor, poor bastard. I saw this kids entire life at that moment. As a kid he would be afraid. He would let his mother control him and turn him any way she wanted. And for a very long time, he will resent her. This is their path.
I never want that to be the path for my kids. I don’t want to ignore them, or be disengaged from them. Nor do I want to be a helicopter, hovering over Jude and our other child. There are so many times I can think about when I was a kid and saying to myself “Thats the best you have?” I want my kids to know that the best I have is truly the best their going to get.
I left the show before the craft was finished. The directors thanked me for coming. They gave me a completed craft for Jude to hold onto and a hug. During the time I worked with them, I never thought they would have as big of an impact on me as they did.
Sometimes while writing I come to very different conclusions then when I start out. I’m far to lazy to go back and rewrite the entire thing in order to from my ideas better.
It takes a village. But thankfully, you can plant whatever you want in your own yard.
**For more information on the Traveling Story Teller please search them on Facebook or check out their web site at : http://www.travelingstoryteller.com