If you have kids who are of the tween or teen variety, chances are you've experienced the, "I'm bored"/"I don't know"/"I don't care"/"Whatever," phase. A lot of times I see this happen with kids who are between feeling like kids and feeling like grown-ups. They aren't sure how they should act sometimes. This can lead to an outward attitude where it seems like they don't care about things. My son's been going through something similar, where his interests have been shifting a bit, and more often than not, when I ask him, "What do you want to read?" "Where do you want to go?" he answers with some variant of "I don't know."
How can you break this cycle with your kids or young friends? The answer's not always easy or obvious, but this weekend, astronaut Chris Hadfield made the task a lot easier in my house.
My son came across the book The Darkest Dark,by astronaut Chris Hadfield, at the book store over the weekend. The artwork on the cover had caught his eye, I pointed out to him that a real astronaut wrote the book, so he was kind of interested to see what kind of picture book an astronaut would write, that didn't have pictures of planets or spaceships on the cover.
I should mention here that my son is on the autism spectrum, and suffers from some pretty bad anxiety sometimes. So I think when he took this book to the shop cafe and started reading it, I think he was both surprised and interested to see that someone who grew up to be an astronaut could have some of the same types of worries he had. He wanted to know if he could buy the book--I was a little surprised, because he's fourteen years old. It's been a while since he's wanted to get a picture book. But I never say no to buying books!
When we got home, he was showing me some of the book. When he got to this page:
he asked, "What's that guitar doing on his bed? Is that a real guitar?"
I couldn't have asked for a better set up. "Yes, that is a real guitar. Chris Hadfield plays the guitar. In fact, here, let me show you a video..."
Since my son is a pretty big David Bowie fan, and Space Oddity is his favorite Bowie song, I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. My son is now pretty hooked. The book also provided a great springboard for us to talk about anxiety issues and fears. I also showed him this TED Talk from Chris Hadfield, about facing our fears:
Of course, things won't always line up as easily as this inspiration did. There was a lot of serendipity going on here, but I would argue that this could be the case with any kid. Somewhere out there there is someone who has that certain something that your kids might need to see, that connection your kids need to make. An interest can be spawned by the smallest, most coincidental thing. If we leave ourselves open to possibility, we are surrounded by inspiration. It can be hard to get into the habit of keeping an open mind, of not judging things. My son could have easily said, "That's a picture book, and picture books are for babies." He would have missed an entire world of things that he's now interested in because he took a chance on that book.
My son now has someone he can look up to, a new hero, someone who has some of the same interests he has, and someone who has battled some of the same things my son has issues with. He doesn't feel so alone, and that makes such a huge difference. I think most of us, if we keep an open mind, can find folks out there that are similarly inspirational to us, who will remind us to never give up on our dreams.
About Chris Hadfield (from chrishadfield.ca):
In 2013, the moustachioed Canadian Astronaut, Col. Chris Hadfield, captivated the world from the International Space Station (ISS).
As he worked, Astronaut Hadfield documented his journey and daily life as an astronaut on the space station with social media. He shared breathtaking photos on Twitter and Tumblr. Have you ever wondered how astronauts sleep or whether it’s possible to cry in space? Chris Hadfield used videos to answer these questions and many other queries regarding space science.
Proving to be as much a talented musician as he is a brilliant aviator and engineer, he charmed his fans with a number of memorable musical performances. 22 million people have watched his famous cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity", which he filmed to mark his departure from his final mission. According to NASA, Chris Hadfield's video was the first music video made in space. His musical performances are that much more impressive when we consider that he had to learn how to speak and sing with a weightless tongue!
Chris Hadfield is a Canadian icon. He's proud of where he comes from and he's passionate about his work. He's humble and charming because that's how Canadians are raised. With his feet firmly planted on Earth now, he works tirelessly to inspire young people to do what they love (especially, if it's space-related) and to be fascinated by the world around them. Occasionally, he's been known to dabble in some music and play a tune for his friends and family.
Melanie R. Meadors is an author and editor of science fiction and fantasy, blogger at The Once and Future Podcast, and a professional author publicist. She studied physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University, where no day was complete without a heated debate over relativity versus quantum mechanics. You can find her at her website, melaniermeadors.com, on Facebook, and Twitter, @melaniermeadors.