We are so not cool. I don't think about it very often, but every once in a while I am reminded of this fact. The other afternoon the boys put on a CD that I had bought for Simeon when he was very small. With songs like London Bridge is Falling Down, Sur Le Pont D'Avignon, and Round and Round the Garden, I had used it to introduce him to melody, rhyme, and dance. I have fond memories of Dancing 'Round the Maypole, marching behind the Grand Ol' Duke of York, and Here We Go Looby Loo-ing with my first little preschooler. I think I used this CD with Alex and maybe Jacob as well, but the last two little ones haven't seen their mother dancing all that much.
Not to worry, though, because Simeon has been dancing with them and teaching them all the motions and steps that I taught him years ago. It warmed my heart the other day when I caught a glimpse of this through the scolding hole: five brothers spontaneously singing and dancing happily together to such simple tunes-- it was just the sweetest and most innocent scene.
When I walked around the corner to get a better view, Zachary took a spill. Simeon helped him up and, without missing a step, he was dancing again with the others. Simeon flashed me a knowing smile and said, "He is so gay, he doesn't feel the pain." I almost choked when I heard this word choice. We never use the word gay around this house for any reason. I can only think he heard or read it somewhere recently in its original meaning and thought it was a useful word. Why not? After all, he has never learned otherwise.
I thought a moment about how different I was at Simeon's age. While I have many good memories of my elementary school years in the public school system, it seems I remember being fully aware of what was cool and what was not cool. I remember, also, being aware of who was cool and who was not cool. The pressure to conform to these standards of coolness only grew stronger in later years, but it was already present in the third grade and beginning to shape my thoughts and desires.
Simeon does not know anything about this pressure. He's never learned to look down on children younger than himself (like I did) or despise the things that entertain them. Neither does he know the slang meanings of certain words (like I did) or that some people use these words to hurt others. In his world, the word gay means happy and I am happy it does. I am happy my boys have the freedom to express themselves freely and naturally. I'm happy that they do not feel pressure (like I did) to conform to standards that are not their family's.
It is good to be in touch with one's culture and to belong to a larger community, and I want that for my children. For now, however, I think our family, our large extended family, and very large pool of friends (both inside and outside the homeschooling crowd) is "larger community" enough for my young sons. And, unlike popular culture as it is most often found, our children really are loved and cared about by everyone in our larger community. They have every reason to feel that they will always belong and that they are unconditionally accepted here.
There will come a day when our community is no longer large enough for my children and they will need to find their way in the world. When that day comes, I hope we will have trained them well enough to know how to fit in without compromising what I hope will have become their own standards. It is with that day in mind that I will teach Simeon that gay, meaning happy, is no longer a word in common use and I will help him to find a few synonyms. Living a counter-cultural life of faith is difficult enough without adding unnecessary quirks that are bound to rub people the wrong way. I wouldn't be doing my children any favors by completely neglecting to instruct them in a sense of style, speech, and manner that is somewhat in keeping with the larger culture to which we all belong.
So, while I readily and happily admit that we are not cool-- as defined by many a third grader-- I like to think that we are developing in our children a naturalness, a confidence, a sense of taste, and a more classic, more perennial style that will serve them well in any place or decade.
And, quite frankly, I think that's pretty cool.