Did you ever hear about that lion cub that was raised by elephants and thought it was an elephant? Like wallowing in mud and stuff? In high school, I ran with two crowds: there were the jocks, and then there was a motley assortment of outdoorsy, weird-in-a-nascent-hipster-sorta-way types. If asked to describe my interests in 1997 I would have listed the following: camping, backpacking, 49ers football/Giants baseball, surfing, hanging out at the beach, and parties where no one drinks but everyone acts as if they have (by creating “performance art” or coming up with elaborate games involving Nerf toys and shopping malls). In college, I spent a great deal of time sailing and watching other people sail. It wasn’t until I moved to New York for law school that I got to know the real me. My friends and I were just too busy studying to form any group pastime preferences (cathartic binge drinking aside), and the severe time crunch compelled me to run triage on my hobbies.
As it turns out, I hate being cold, wet, seasick, sunburned, and bitten by insects. Camping, backpacking, surfing, and sailing? No thank you. Since my early love of exercise was sincere, I’m still game for running, hiking, and other aerobic activities that take place outdoors (so long as I’m allotted plenty of DEET and sunscreen during the day and a hot shower and comfy bed at night). But spectator sports? What the heck is the point of that? I don’t burn any calories and spend a whole ton of time producing nothing. The only thing more useless than playing a game is watching other people play a game.*
Maren Schmidt writes, “Our preferences for interaction with our environment create our compass. Unfortunately, we can’t read this compass easily until we are older.” And some of us realize that anything requiring a compass (math, eww; wilderness exploration, blech) ought to be categorically disqualified. Yet her point is well-taken.
Hopefully my kids aren’t as enslaved by the need for physical comfort and a sense of productivity as I am, and with any luck they’ll figure out which activities they legitimately enjoy before they turn twenty-five. All I can do is make sure they’re exposed to a variety of diversions, like camping and backpacking with their father – and objectively rewarding activities, like independent reading and creative arts with their mother. In all seriousness, I make a sustained effort to delve into projects and places I wouldn’t ordinarily enjoy in order to give the kids a more diverse set of experiences from which to choose their own passions. After all, how will they ever realize that their favorite thing to do is compare insectoid markings if I don’t drag my butt to “Ranger Day”?
Sometimes I even over-correct. A few months ago, I took the kids to a – gulp, swallow bile – mini petting zoo. First Viv and then Stu began to grab handfuls of the pee-soaked and poo-laced wood shavings, throw them into the air over their heads, and yell, “it’s snowing!” I restrained myself, determined not to let my prejudices and squeamishness infect their experience. As I stood determinedly plastering a frozen half-smile on my face, one of the naturalists emerged from the office: “Kids, please don’t touch the animals’ bedding. You can contract any number of illnesses by handling their excrement.” (It’s almost like nature doesn’t want me to like it.)
Though I’ve since realized that I’m a lion cub, I cherish all my childhood friends – as well as new elephant buddies I’ve picked up along the way – despite our divergent interests. (I mean, Burning Man? Seriously? You wait in line, are super sweaty hot, get covered in dust, and have no money – on purpose?!?!) I love that we can find a way to have fun together, personal preferences aside. I guess the most I can hope for my children is that they too find something they hate doing – and people for whom they’re willing to do it anyway.
*Okay, that sentence is far from accurate. I happen to love both very active games (like soccer and tag) and extremely sedentary games (like cards and drinking games); only in-betweeny games (like croquet and other lawn games my husband adores as well as the “sport” of golf) truly disappoint. And I do see the point of fun for fun’s sake as well as both spectator and participatory games as a conduit for socialization. But those rather gaping caveats would have undermined my argument – and we can’t have that.