“Daddy, I don’t want to go to space”
“What?! But I’m desperately trying to live vicariously through you. I love the concept of space exploration and you are 4 years old, space travel is a genuine possibility for you, so why wouldn’t you want to go to space?!”
“I don’t want to go to space, it looks too difficult”
You see, we’ve been watching Astronauts: Do you have what it takes on BBC2 the past few weeks. We’ve been treating the kids to dinner in front of the TV on Monday evenings and the whole family has caught up on Chris Hadfield and his band of merry spacepeople.
This has been for two reasons:
- It’s so much better than In The Night Garden
- A woman I went through training with, Kerry, has been doing wonderfully well in the competition.
Her presence on the show, and my tenuous connection to her, has been enough for me to turn this into a 60mins long inspirational event for the kids each week. My son is old enough (4) to recognise her and cheer for her in the competition. We even played a game where we get to eat a malteaser everytime she is on screen (my not-so-subtle attempt at classical conditioning!)
My daughter is young (18 months) but still seems transfixed with the space sequences. Plus my daughter is a girl, Kerry is a woman. She is also a badass, doing incredibly well at all the tasks, and displaying smarts and determination in one hard-working package. I firmly believe that representation is extremely important in my daughter’s upbringing and this show has delivered well on my “find-positive-Women-in-STEM-role-models” quest.
I thought things were going very nicely until the final episode when my son announced he didn’t want to be an Astronaut because it “looked too hard”.
I’ll be honest, I think that is one of my worst parental nightmares; that the kids won’t develop a drive or passion for something, or that they’ll give up on a dream as soon as it gets tough.
I don’t care what it is they want to do. They don’t have to be astronauts. They can be musicians or doctors or teachers or athletes or deep-sea divers or politicians. I don’t mind. As long as they want to do SOMETHING.
I’d secretly by very happy if one is a rock star and the other a professional wrestler (my own childhood/current dreams). Even then, every rock star and professional wrestler has had to work damn hard to get to where they are.
The hardest pill for me to swallow will be the teenage “I dunno” shrug of the shoulders when I ask what their plan is.
I don’t expect them to know what they will spend their whole life doing. I’m 33 and I’m not sure what path my life is taking, but at least I know what direction my next few steps are. I can’t drift, it’s not in me and it never has been. It’s also never been in me to say something was “too hard” and, let me tell you, it’s not in my wife either, no chance!
I won’t have a problem if you aim too high and miss, but I will have a problem if you aim too low and hit. – Rick Rigsby
The astronaut dream was probably not going to happen, but I should do things that keep me moving in the right direction, just in case – and I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, I’m happy. – Chris Hadfield
One step at a time
That evening I sat on the floor of my son’s room during storytime and asked him to imagine a really tall mountain. I asked him to think about how long it would take to walk up that mountain and how much effort it would require. Very difficult, right?
Then I asked him to take a step towards me for a hug, then another. While giving him this hug I asked if that had been difficult? He said “no”.
I tried to explain to him that even climbing the biggest mountain in the world was simply a case of taking one step, over and over again. It’s not hard to take one step, right?
I explained that he had already achieved great and difficult things. He can walk, he can talk, he has bowel control, only a few short years ago he could do none of these things! Everything looks difficult and intimidating from the outset, from the bottom of the mountain.
I’m embarking on a large project myself. It seems daunting at times and a lot of hard work. There are definitely times when, even at 33, I have self doubt about my ability to achieve my goal.
But I lie in bed telling myself to same thing I told him. One step at a time is doable. One step at a time is achievable, and each step brings you a step closer to that summit.
The next morning my son woke me up:
“The problem with Mars is that there are no houses on Mars. So people can’t go to Mars until there are houses but you can’t fit a house on a rocket ship”
“That is true, son”
“I’ll fix that problem”
“Yes, by the time I’m 10, I’ll get houses to go to Mars”
So, Okay, he might not want to go to space himself, but at least he has now found himself a project to work on.
Check out this incredible story from Rick Rigsby, Lessons from a 3rd Grade dropout.
And this Chris Hadfield inspired cartoon from zenpencils.com