As parents and educators, we often hold two different goals side by side that can create some dynamic tension. On one hand, we try to shape our children and guide them towards values, behaviors, and attitudes that we believe and respect; we have conscious or unconscious ideas about who we hope our children will be. At the same time, we work to embrace our children for who they are, allowing them to become the fullest version of themselves. At times, these two goals can become inconsistent, since our children – in being fully themselves – may exhibit values, behaviors, and attitudes that do not align with our own or our hopes for our children. So what to do then? The way parents shape children, and in turn, the way children shape parents, is one of the most nuanced, challenging and beautiful aspects of parenting.
Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here creates a wonderful metaphor that explores this topic since the children in the book are not fitting the mold that has been set for them. In the story, a parent with political ambitions needs to have children that look the part, fit the script, and don’t draw undue attention. However, the children in the book spontaneously combust (without causing themselves any harm) when they are agitated, so there is a gap between the children that are dreamed of and the children that exist. While the wild premise provides much humor, at its heart it is a serious story about appreciating the children we are given and working with who they are. The person in the book who is ultimately most able to connect with the children and influence them is the one who is able to appreciate them fully, including their ability to ignite. She sees the beauty in the fullness of each child and works with who they are by ordering flame-retardant suits and trying to understand their power.
What does it look like in more ordinary circumstances? I think of the Ivy League professor and lifelong scholar who was a parent of one of my former 6th grader students. He came to realize that his rock-climbing, physically gifted son was not going to read with him all afternoon, so he took up hiking (and couldn’t resist talking about books while getting to the top of Monadnock with his son). I think of my Indiana raised, meat-loving husband, becoming an expert vegan chef to meet the needs of our vegan daughter. I think of our youngest daughter’s special needs and the way her weak sense of balance has introduced the joys of a tandem bike to our family. These are small moments, and many families experience even more profound ones when there is an even larger gap between the child that was expected and the child that arrived. The interstice – the space between adult and child – and all that occurs there – is the wonderful territory of Nothing to See Here. The book fortifies all of us as parents and educators to remember the beautiful back and forth of educating and raising children, of shaping and being shaped, by the gift of all of our children.