For a period of time around 2008, I helped lead a Girl Scout troop in St. Paul. At the time, the Girl Scouts of America had a slogan: “Letting Girls, Letting Go.” It was about empowering girls to be leaders, make their own decisions, and letting go of control. I find that in recent weeks, it’s particularly applicable to my own life.
My son turns three next week. Since he was born, his father and I have done our best to instill in him the geeky values (and preferences) that we ourselves possess. His bedroom is decorated with a Jim Henson theme, his bookshelves are stocked with appropriately geeky books and still more geeky books, I made him a Lego blanket, we buy him as many geeky t-shirts as we can find. We are doing our best to raise a geek.
A few weeks ago, he was getting a haircut at one of those kid haircut places with TVs at every station, and there was a show on that he had not been at all exposed to. The show is called PAW Patrol, and as I typed those words, I just felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if a million parents of little ones between the ages of two and five suddenly cried out and were silenced.
For those not in the know, PAW Patrol is an enthusiastic television show on Nickelodeon about a boy named Ryder and a team of surprisingly capable rescue dogs, each with a different specialty (firefighter, policeman, etc). The problem of thumbs (which bothered me within seconds of watching a single episode and always bothers me when animals are given human characteristics) is solved by sophisticated robotic backpacks that allow the pups more freedom of motion. (Talking dogs I can suspend my disbelief for, but have them doing tasks that require opposable appendages, and it’s all over for me.) There’s still the matter of how they shift gears in their vehicles, but for my own peace of mind, I choose to let that go.
To an adult, PAW Patrol is energetic, briefly entertaining, and easily forgettable. I genuinely expected my son to burn through this show as he has many others—hot and fast and immediately on to the next thing.
What I didn’t count on is that to the preschool age bracket, PAW Patrol is what the Beatles were to 1960s teenagers. If Ryder were to go on record claiming the Paw Patrol was more popular than Jesus, I wouldn’t bat an eye. My son is utterly, completely, and passionately captivated by this show. He knows the pups’ names and specialties and he wants Paw Patrol on everything he owns; if he were a few years older I’d worry about him coming home with a Paw Patrol tattoo. He has favorite episodes that he requests specifically. He is obsessed.
When he first started begging for Paw Patrol everything, my gut reaction was dismay. I have been working to raise a hip little geek, here. Why didn’t he want to wear his Flux Capacitor shirt? Wouldn’t he prefer that Cat In the Hat fuzzy blanket? I just bought him some awesome Star Wars pajamas, can’t he wear them tonight instead?
Why won’t he like the things I want him to like?
And then I realized—it’s because he’s becoming his own person. And more importantly, my nearly three-year-old son is becoming his own geek.
There have been many attempts to define what makes a person a geek. To me, it’s anyone who is deeply passionate about a topic, whether it be a hobby, a show, a band; whatever tickles someone’s fancy. While the more traditional geek flavors come from the sci-fi/fantasy realm, that’s not the end of it. There are many, many types of geekdoms out there.
When I noticed myself resisting my son’s chosen geekdom, I immediately (albeit reluctantly at first) checked myself. My son is showing passion for something that has not been spoon-fed to him by his parents. It’s not what I’d have chosen for him, but what’s important is that he chose it for himself. He’s excited about it. He wants to share it with everyone: me, his father, his best friend, his teachers at school. How many people have I raved to about Stranger Things? How many times have I watched all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer straight through (always stalling for a while in the middle of season six, because jeebus does that one get bogged down)? Why am I fighting against something he obviously adores?
In my opinion, much of the resistance that geeks have faced from mainstream society is confusion over why we like the things we like. Doctor Who is cheesy, for example. Star Trek is weird. Board games are childish. And I’ve realized that my own resistance to my son’s preferred geeky pursuits is exactly the same as the resistance of my middle school classmates to my passionate devotion to Star Trek: Voyager in 1995 (or rather, what their resistance would have been if I’d let on how much I loved that show). I was judging my son’s tastes; I was judging him for not liking the things that I did. As soon as I realized this, I made a conscious effort to shut it down. I needed to let him be his own geek.
While PAW Patrol may be utterly forgettable to me, his newfound passion for it will be forever burned in my brain as one of the greatest moments of geek parenting. From the day he was born, my husband and I surrounded our son with our own passions: Harry Potter, Muppets, Back to the Future, Star Wars—we filled his world with these and more. But the day my son truly became a geek was when he discovered something new, on his own. Something that ignited a passion of enthusiasm in him, that he embraced and immersed himself in, like any adult geek does with a new fandom.
From the day that I became a parent, I was always a geeky parent. Thanks to PAW Patrol, I’m now the parent of a geek. In the end, I couldn’t be more thrilled about it!