I promise- this is the last post with circuitry in it without an actual photo of a project with circuitry in it. But wanted to share how proud I was today to go to Radio Shack with the girls. I am always grateful when people introduce me to new places to shop for things that I need. If I were in Singapore, I'd know exactly where to go to buy even the most obscure things. But here in the US, even the names of things are different. Case in point: What I'd always called crocodile clips are called alligator clips here. Funny. So often I don't know if I'm even talking about the same thing as someone else, let alone where to buy said thing in this country.
So last night I googled Radio Shack and found they stock wonderful things like bitty capacitors, resistors, DC motors, LEDs, buzzers, transistors, and all manner of basic electronic components. My college degree was in physics, not electronics, so I am not one of those brilliant folks who can make robots that clean your house and answer your phone for you. I spent most of my time in college falling asleep in theory lectures, and in optics labs trying to create holograms, and in some back closet unearthing and fine-tuning the callibrating systems of old moving instruments. Very un-sewing, I know. It's surreal looking back now - but then it was challenging and fun, and incredibly gratifying to come home with a half-built pre-amp circuitboard in my purse, along with my mints and discman (if you didn't know how old I am, you do now). I found things like that very amusing.
But back to Radio Shack. We had just picked out that toggle switch we needed, and a little motor for the kids. Emily, who'd been oddly fascinated by all the circuit components in the little drawers we'd been pulling open, pointed to a circuit symbol on the little drawer in front of her. It was an LED, which she'd met for the first time only yesterday.
"Mom," she whispered to me. "We need a couple more of those. Brighter ones."
And when the store manager showed us an LED that changed colors, her eyes widened and she said, "Mom, please can we buy that one?"
I was so proud. True, two children were behaving worse than in a fabric store but one wasn't. This one knew what was going on. And wanted to play with this stuff. And remembered yesterday's messing around with mom's wires and bulbs and whatnot.
I came home wondering what exactly it was about those LEDs that made me grin like an idiot at her in the store. I've decided it wasn't that it was an electronic component per se. I think it is this nebulous thing called Instilling. It's the same thing that makes me glad my own parents exposed me to all kinds of odd things - from country music to embroidery to oil paints to hacksaws to shellac to treadle sewing machines to awls to softball to scotch tape. It's the less evident motivation behind them letting me try out stuff that they hadn't experienced themselves that insurance companies listed as "exempted activities". It's my own instinct to let Kate wield a messy paintbrush frighteningly close to a white wall, or Jenna work with permanent markers and scissors and my good, non-Crayola oil pastels. Or Emily with LEDs. It is my parents never saying, "Nah, that's for boys." Or "I don't think that's something you'd like." And it is my parents - and teachers - also saying, "Redo that". "Unpick that seam." "Add another coat, and sand it first." "That's not quite right". "Try it again, like this." "You can do better than that."
Distilled to its most fundamental, it is this: I want my kids to take on the world without even the wisp of a thought that anything is impossible, or unsuitable. Within reasonable limits. They should know social and safety norms, of course. And there is the tragedy of being a jack of all trades etc. And some days I am so tired of clearing messes, that I am guilty of saying, "Let's not do that today. How about waiting till you're a teenager?" But that's me being human. And I don't expect myself, even at my insanest, to be perpetually creating opportunities for the kids to invent robots, build amazing recycled structures, sew clothes for all the neighbors on our street, and write their own cooking books. But faced with the choice of letting them do the same old craft for the umpteenth, convenientth time and trying something completely wacky, premature for their age, inevitably messy and thrillingly unchartered, I hope I pick the better. And I hope I am watching long enough to see them do it well.