Growing up Alien

Apropos the last entry — multi-culti tutti fruti — my husband said the child should do a presentation on the culture of writers.  Laura then expanded on this with several perfectly apropos observations on what the children of self-employed intellectuals learn.  This got me to thinking about — specificaly — what growing up with parents who both write science fiction, fantasy and mystery has done to our kids.  I don’t know if it qualifies as a culture, mind you.  our family is arguably a group — just not a large group.  We could, arguably, be considered a sub culture.  Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock talked about just such a splintering of subcultures, some with very little to do with the other, none really having much to do with people’s antecedents.  He didn’t of course factor in the internet, which makes such cultures geographically spread out.  My kids and Dave Freer kids understand each other completely — over Skype.  They’ve never met in person.  Most of Robert’s classmates think his points of reference are bizarre.

So, if Robert wanted to write about the subculture of kids growing up in a house with two writing parents who are both sf/f geeks, he could use such gems as:

When I was very, very young, I thought “editor” was a swear word — it was just the tone mom said it in.  It took me till I used it in Kindergarten to realize that it wasn’t.

Names that my parents hold in utter reverence — Heinlein, Bradbury, Pratchett — are utterly unknown to my classmates.  On the other hand, when I found out my history teacher (10th grade) read Baen, it was like meeting a long-lost uncle.

When I was five and wrote a Winnie the Pooh story — twenty pages long and with a complex plot — mom and dad did not congratulate me on my achievement.  Instead they sat me down and explained I should never use someone else’s copyrighted characters.  Never, ever, ever.

Mom and dad would forgive dirt behind the ears.  They would never forgive bad grammar, though.

Apparently when you demand chocolate in the grocery store, other parents don’t answer TANSTAAFL.  Other parents don’t quote the sayings of Lazarus Long at their kids.  Other parents don’t tell their children their lego spaceships would never fly, nor exhort them to “do the math.”

On the other hand, most other parents don’t subscribe to science news and don’t leave books on forensic crime investigation in the bathroom.

Some of the worst arguments I’ve had with my mother are over vocabulary.  She hasa this thing about words she calls “ugly” and “clunky.”  Then there’s my dad.  We argue about physics and math.  And have shouting matches over what exactly the fourth dimmension is.

When I was twelve and still not published, I got a long discourse on how I was just being lazy and refusing to learn to plot.  Then mom gave me ten books to read on the subject.  Mind you, I wanted to write, but they wanted me to do it right.

There are books in every room in the house, even the bathrooms.  There are books in laundry baskets under the guest bed.  There are books in steamer trunks in the attic and in plastic boxes in the basement.

The worst social gaffe a friend of the family ever committed at our house was when she told me — aloud, during Thanksgiving dinner — my stories were not very logical and my universe should be more like Star Trek.  You could see dad biting his tongue.  And I think mom went into the kitchen laughed behind the table.

My brother and I never played catch.  Or hide and seek.  We have however, since Eric was very young, played a make-believe game in which our house is an interstellar spaceship and mom and dad and us are explorers.  The cars are our away pods.  The office is the control center.

People discussing plots at the dinner table is just normal.  We learned to chime in with ideas by the time we were two.

On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to describe these plots to your kindergarten teacher.  She calls your mom and interrupts her.  And she gets “concerned.”  (Woman thought Robert was claiming to have seen an alien.  Sigh.)

It’s not a good idea to interrupt mom when she’s really writing fast.  She throws books at you.  And while I know she aims to miss you — she aims very badly.  And dictionaries HURT.

If mom is in one of her writing frenzies, you need to remember to feed pets.  You also need to remind her to eat.  Sleep.  Bathe.  And there’s really nothing alarming if she suddenly looks up and says “What’s my middle name?”  These things happen.

It’s not polite to call dad an “editor” even if he’s editted two anthologies.

Mom and dad both expect you to learn a bunch of things on your own.  if you fail to do it, you get pointed at the appropriate bookshelf.  Sometimes at the innappropriate one.

NEVER tell either parent “I’m bored.”  You’ll find yourself buried under a mountain of books.

Sometimes the plumber who just came over to fix the back up in the basement will ask for mom’s autograph.  He’ll do it while you’re sitting right there at the breakfast table eating your cheerios.  Mom says she didn’t pay him to do that, and mom is an honest woman.

Sometimes people in applicances stores will give your parents discounts because they’ve read their stuff.

But the weirdest thing is that mom and dad inhabit a world all their own.  For instance, while visiting the aquarium in Denver, we came across an aquarium where ALL the pirana were facing in one direction.  In neat rows.  Dad immediately got up on a little stand nearby and started speaking to them — in the “you’ll never go hungry again” style.  Yes, we were alone there at the moment — but then a woman came in.

The look on her face reminds me, that as the son of SF/F writers, I grew up alien.

7 thoughts on “Growing up Alien

  1. I could almost write that one, myself! Huh!
    NEVER tell either parent “I’m bored.” You’ll find yourself buried under a mountain of books.
    Sounds familiar, and I’ll bet Jon could say this one, too. 😉
    Names that my parents hold in utter reverence — Heinlein, Bradbury, Pratchett — are utterly unknown to my classmates. On the other hand, when I found out my history teacher (10th grade) read Baen, it was like meeting a long-lost uncle.
    Fortunately, I had a ninth grade English teacher who thought that her reading list should consist only of Bradbury and Heinlein, and she would steer me towards them every chance she got. *grin* Sometimes you just get lucky.

  2. On the other hand, when I found out my history teacher (10th grade) read Baen, it was like meeting a long-lost uncle.
    I had a high school algebra teacher whose word problems ran along the lines of, “If Frodo left Bag End and walked at a rate of 4 miles an hour, while Gandalf left Minas Tirith on horseback and rode non-stop for seven days, at what time would the Nazgul reach The Prancing Pony?”
    I believe I was the only one in the class who had a clue. And do you know, I just ran into that teacher a few months ago, 30 years after I graduated, had a long, interesting conversation about the stupid books students are assigned to read. (Billy Budd was mentioned) Meeting took place, of course, right outside the book store.

  3. Growing up Alien
    “My mom murders people for a living. She cuts their throats, strangles them, and rips them to shreds. She also sends them running naked into the night, looking for help.
    But mom doesn’t do anything illegal – she’s a mystery writer.”
    Who is now seriously budgeting for 2008. Fortunately, Sam’s best friend’s mother makes a living designing and selling needlepoint patterns. So he’s used to families that believe in the Muse.

  4. Growing up Alien
    I wonder if all children who read SF from an early age have similar experiences? I know that I did.
    When I was in the fifth grade or so I came down with Rheumatic Fever. I was relegated to bedrest for months. I came to despise Television…both channels. So I began to read. At first a little then voraciously. Then I discovered Science Fiction.
    I grew up alienated…no one understood my references,not my teachers, not even my parents. Science Fiction wasn’t a big thing in semi-rural West Texas during the early sixties.
    However….I became immune to culture/future shock.
    EvMick (kind of a high tech redneck trucker…who envies his grandkids..who are growing up with what I only dreamed of.)

  5. family as culture
    I very much enjoyed this, especially in conjnuction with the previous posting on the subject. My parents weren’t attempting to turn us into writers, merely thinkers, so there were slightly fewer books, & the parrot lived on top of the typewriter, so sometimes the writing was difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, we had our own references that left our contemporaries & teaches at sea when dealing with us.
    But, from what you’re saying, I think I’m lucky that my parents spoke very little about their parents, & I only ever met one grand parent. My ‘ethnic’ cultural background was simply ‘Momma & Daddy’.

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