I was a total fraud the other day. A baldfaced, unabashed, dirty, rotten liar.
My daughter, DeeDee – my rockin and rollin little intellectual, type-A punkster, really wanted to dye her hair pink for the summer. Since I am equipped to deny this child exactly nothing, I acquiesced. I figured, the poor child spends most of the year in a school uniform, where brazen earring-wearing and glittery nail-painting and eye-shadow sporting are forbidden. In the summer, I thought, let the child go nuts.
So I went to the beauty supply store, looking for the long-term temporary dyes – the ones that slowly come out over twenty washes or so – and we talked about which ones were least likely to cause irritation or harm.
“Is this for you?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “It’s for my nine-almost-ten-year-old. She’s super rad.”
“Oh!” she said, clutching her hands to her heart. “You’re Cool Mom! I love Cool Mom! I want to be Cool Mom someday!”
And I smiled and basked. God help me! I basked! It felt so good!
“Um,” said my son. “No she isn-”
“Shh!” I said.
“What?” the girl asked.
“Nothing!” I said, my voice overly bright and brittle as broken glass. “We’d better be off.”
“Off we go!”
I slapped my hand over his mouth and continued to bask (just keep saying it! I wanted to shout. Say it and say it a million times and then it will be true!) as we hustled out the door. I needed to keep the kid quiet. Because Leo knew – he knew!
“Hush, boy!” I hissed as we scuttled into the blazing heat of the sun-baked parking lot.
“But mom!” Leo said.
But he was right. I am not Cool Mom. I wish I was Cool Mom. But I am not, and I never will be. I am Nerd Mom.
Or maybe I’m Dork Mom. The semantics of Nerd vs. Dork always confuse me, and the fact that I have spent any time at all trying to parse out the nuances of meaning between nerd and dork confine me forever to both.
Today, while Ella was volunteering at the local library and DeeDee (pink hair and all) was at two different camps, and Leo, after doing his little golf camp at the municipal golf course, was on his own for the rest of the day. So he and I went to Fort Snelling, and did what all history nerds do when visiting historical sites:
Folks, it was some hard core nerding.
My seven year old son had several in-depth chats with historically cosplayed volunteers in the wheelwright shop and the blacksmith shop and doctor’s office and the kitchens.
“Hmm,” he said, eyeing a nail that was out on a display at the blacksmith’s shop, “I thought the nails were supposed to be square in those days. Why is this one round?”
“Oh,” the smithy said, somewhat embarrassed.
“Your display isn’t right,” Leo chided.
“That’s not supposed to be there.” He pocketed the nail and grinned at the other adults in the room. “Cute kid,” he said.
“I’m not cute,” Leo said. “I’m right.”
Later at the bake shop, Leo and I had Serious Questions about yeast. “People think yeast is bugs,” Leo told the lady, “but it is not bugs.”
We went into the soldier’s barracks and an actor was showing another child the mechanisms comprising his firearm. Leo put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t touch the hammer. It’s made of flint and it will cut your finger right to the bone.”
The actor was taken aback. “How did you know that, son?”
“Ummm,” I said, not wanting to get into the story of how Leo, at four, had snatched one of those guns (which are heavy, by the way) and ran outside with it, laughing all the while. A guy dressed as the general chewed him out and explained in graphic detail the many things that could injure him forever and ever. I don’t know if it was the graphic nature of the descriptions or the fact that he was in a general’s outfit that did the trick, but the lecture made an impression on Leo.
I looked at the ground and not at the pretend soldier’s eye. “I think we read it in a book somewhere.”
We then went to the general store and Leo explained to an old man all about the manufacture of tobacco.
It was in this moment that I realized that I have permanently ruined my children. My weird obsessions with odd details and obscure facts, my insistence on looking up every dang thing that ever crosses my mind? These things are part of my kids’ psyches. They remember the weird things I’ve told them about ship building and agriculture and government. They remember odd facts about astronomy and transpiration and the role of blue-green algae in the ocean’s ecosystem.
After leaving the Fort, we stopped at the library to return some books and grab some new ones, and also to share a story before we headed across town to pick up DeeDee. Ella was in there somewhere, setting things up, but we hadn’t seen her yet. Leo and I sat down on the floor, with a gorgeously illustrated copy of Melville’s Moby Dick spread out in front of us, as well as one of my favorite books of all time - The Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. We also found a book on the history of ship building. Leo was terribly interested in the boats that had been retrofitted to be able to navigate through ice. He leaned into the pages.
“So,” he said. “It’s oak planks, then tar, then iron. But doesn’t the water get through the iron?” We looked at the descriptions of seam sealing and we imagined the terrible fear that sailors must have had on those whaling ships, surrounded by an enraged, icy ocean with no help possible. We imagined being unleashed into the world on a desperate, futile, and morally questionable task.
Then we heard a gasp.
“MOM?” Ella said, her face positively green.
“Hi, honey!” I said, waving.
She stalked over. “Don’t hi me,” she hissed. “There are people that I know here.”
“Well-” I said.
“And here you are.”
“Nerding in public! UGH!”
And she stalked away.
Leo looked at me and patted my back. “Secretly,” he said. “She likes her nerd mom.” He grinned. “And so do I.”