If you’re a parent who happens to be a geek, you know the joy of discovering your kid is “ready” to experience some sort of geekery you dearly treasure. Knowing they’re old enough for you to read The Once and Future King aloud to them, or that it’s time to leave that stack of Chris Claremont X-Men comics in their room for them to pore over, will give you a feeling grounded in nostalgia. It’s a return to that thrill of discovery from when you were a kid, and a new thrill at the opportunity to share it.
That sharing is not without its risks. One of the most important things about geek culture is that it’s opt-in. Unlike sports, broccoli, piano lessons, or penmanship, you can’t force it on a kid, claiming it’s good for them. Which was one of the things that made it dear to me as a kid: It was something I chose. Geek culture only works when you choose to be a part of it.
As a parent, I’ve learned to hold back when my kid responds with a resounding “meh” to something I give him. Instead of seeing it as an opportunity to get evangelical about Batman or Hitchhiker’s Guide, I try to listen more and give him space to explore. Very often, this means letting him loose in the comic book store and seeing what he comes back with. What he likes sometimes provides him with context for stuff that I like, opening up conversations about story and art that would have been quickly shut down by my attempts to simply shove something at him.
Beyond nostalgia — or the hope that you might be able to connect a direct line from your childhood to theirs — comics, fantasy, and sci-fi offer another potential bridge between parents and kids: They are themselves a space for shared exploration. In most of our experience as parents, we function as teachers or guides rather than fellow travelers. We lead our kids through the woods because we’ve been there before and we know the way. The speculative worlds of comics and sci-fi don’t necessarily work that way. They don’t privilege our decades of experience. Everyone comes in on the ground floor. Everyone learns the path by walking, learns the world by being in it.
The sense of shared exploration works even when we, the adults, are familiar with the worlds we’re exploring. We can still walk side-by-side with our kids from the Shire to Bree, or out into the woods behind Meg and Charles Wallace’s house, headed to meet the mysterious Mrs. W’s. When an issue of Superman ends with Supes in a seemingly inescapable fix, we can wonder right along with them how he’ll survive, and speculate about possible resolutions.
Sharing impossible fictions with our kids moves us out of the realm of explaining and into the realm of wondering. In doing so, it puts us closer to our kids, who go out into the real world every day wondering rather than knowing. They’re constantly in the position of figuring out things that are second nature to us, and the familiar is often strange to them. Entering into a fantastic world with our kids, even one we remember traveling through when we were small, allows us to experience that strangeness with them.
What comics or sci-fi books have you shared with your kids?