My kids and I took a little trip today to a local cave. It’s a sight seeing sort of place with some cool geology and stalactites and stalagmites and such. We’ve been there before, but not for a couple of years, so it was new enough for my boys for them to enjoy it again. I was, however, kind of disturbed to learn that they let the bats that overwinter in the cave stay in the attached gift shop as well. At least I think they said they let the little guano machines hibernate there – I was a little distracted corralling my girls.
What was interesting about this trip for me, however, was to watch the reaction me and my kids got from the various people on the tour with us. You see, half of the group was attending through a local Young Mensa field trip group. The other half were just random folks who had the bad luck to take the tour at the same time as us. My kids were the youngest ones there and, as usual, they made a spectacle of themselves. My girls (almost 2 and 3) did get obnoxious towards the end, but that was just a part of the problem. You see, my boys are just very outspoken – quick to answer any question, even the rhetorical ones. And they ask enough questions to get a reference librarian to tell them to give it a rest. Plus they say odd things like, “I find these stairs more disconcerting than I remember them being last time.” (The 9 year old.) or “I can’t wait to get off of these stairs so I can put my feet back on terra firma.” (The 13 year old.) The (almost) 2 year old pretended to be a cat-dog (a puppy that meows) most of the time and dramatically warned us, “no touching” if we got too close to walls or “look out – monsters!” when we were warned about a creepy part coming up. The 3 year old suggested that there might be a tiger behind a gate leading to a dark area she couldn’t see and pointed to every calcium carbonate formation in the place.
What I noticed and what I finally have something of an answer for, was that half of the group did not seem to enjoy our presence. One older woman in particular repeatedly glared at me and my kids. Her husband kept shaking his head at us as if to say, “what has this world come to?” These are the responses I have become quite familiar with: the disapproving looks, the stares which seem to say “why don’t you make them shut-up!”, the averted eyes which indicate that we’re embarrassingly weird. I get them everywhere I go it seems.
However, I noticed a quite different reaction from the folks with the Young Mensa group. I caught of lot of knowing smiles and some rather reassuring nods from the parents whose kids had already made it through the younger, more rambunctious years. They too probably knew what it is like to have kids who talk too much, ask too many questions, are too smart for their own good and unnerve the more normal people around them.
I live in a part of the country which is largely populated by much more somber, serious and conformist people that I am used to. There’s a joke which captures the flavor of a lot of the people here which goes: “Did you hear about the Norwegian farmer who really loved his wife? Yeah, he felt so passionately about her that he almost told her.” We, on the other hand, are from Chicago. We were socialized by intense, argumentative Poles, lively, talkative Irish and rowdy, playing-the-dozens African Americans. Even if my kids weren’t the sort who go around using words like “undulate” and “non-sequituer” in a sentence, we still wouldn’t fit in real well here. Continue reading