I've done it. I have cracked the code on my parent's parenting philosophy. They might not know it, but they practically followed this book to the letter. In fact, if they wrote a parenting book, it would be this one, so I guess they can cross that off their to-do list.
I thought about how to go about writing this review. Should I summarize each of the points? Share my favorite quotes? Or wax philosophical? But really, I couldn't escape how eerily familiar the whole book was to my own growing up. I could see myself in every single geeky characteristic. And so, I thought, why not discuss the book through some personal comparisons?
But first, a definition: According to MaryBeth Hicks, a geek is a Genuine, Enthusiastic, Empowered Kid. In the introduction, she says that geeky parents raise children to have "good characters and strong values." They do not raise them to be popular (although being popular does not automatically exclude them from being a geek, but it is highly improbable).
And now, to expose my true geeky nature, here are the ten characteristics of a geek:
1. Geeks are Brainiacs
I was homeschooled. Need I say more? I'm pretty sure homeschoolers would fall under the "geekier than geeky" category. In my home, there was a natural, near-constant emphasis placed on education. Just as an example, my dad enjoyed having us give "One-Minute Talks" around the dinner table where he (or someone else) would give someone a subject that they would then have to talk about for one minute. So, check, definitely a brainiac (which, by the way, just means that you enjoy learning, not necessarily that you're brilliant). One of the things I really enjoyed about this chapter were the eight kinds of intelligence that MaryBeth Hicks discussed. It really opened my eyes to the multitude of ways a person can be smart.
2. Geeks are Sheltered
When I was living at home, we had a strict rule: Only G-rated media. No exceptions. Harsh and rigid? Maybe (my parents have bended a little bit in recent years), but it was meant to weed out the bad without having to do much weeding (some good was lost with it, but nothing that we couldn't live without). I am by no means advocating this rule nor am I condemning it. I am just stating it like it was. Regardless of whether you agree or not, I think the point is that we had a standard and we stuck to it religiously. Every family should know what they will or will not allow into their home.
3. Geeks are Uncommon
I'm not going to lie. I felt this one, and it hurt just a little. I could tell I was different. I couldn't join in on conversations with my peers because I either didn't know what they were talking about or didn't care. Part of me wanted to hang out at Wal-Mart (remember, I'm from rural Colorado...that was the only cool hangout for miles around) or be asked to prom, but the other part of me knew that even if I did, I would still feel isolated. Looking back, I realize that some of my interests that contributed to me being "uncommon" (sewing, playing the piano and organ, etc.) have actually helped me to be more successful as an adult. Which is why, even though it hurt, it was probably worth it.
4. Adults like Geeks
Oh my goodness, I can't even tell you how much adults loved me. They all wanted me to either be their daughter (or granddaughter) or to marry their son (problem was, the sons did not feel the same way because...well, because I was a geek). Since I was homeschooled, I probably spent more than the usual amount of time with adults, and I honestly could carry on great conversations because I just viewed them as older, wiser friends. I was also polite and wrote thank-you notes, and adults love that.
5. Geeks are Late-Bloomers
Okay, this is hard to admit (but it definitely proves this point): I played with dolls well into my teens. Yes, it's true. My mom didn't encourage me to be interested in make-up or dating, and so I hung onto my childhood. (But that's not to say I didn't have make-up and dating in my peripheral vision; it just wasn't front and center and all-consuming.) So while I was mature in some ways, I came into other parts of adolescence rather slowly. (Now admit it...those of you who have daughters now, aren't you glad you get to play with dolls again?)
6. Geeks are Team Players
My family is not a sports family; we are a music family. This means that while only a few of us played on baseball and soccer city leagues, we all played a musical instrument, no negotiation. But even without the sports emphasis, I think my parents still instilled the value of being a good team player: competing with dignity and grace, trying your best, and pulling your share of the load.
7. Geeks are True Friends
As Aaron gets closer to going to school (still more than a year away but coming too fast for me), I've thought a lot about friends. I've realized that if he can just find some great geeky friends, he will be happy. As with most things, it is so much easier to do (or not do) things if you're not alone.. I had a few really good friends growing up (that are still my friends today), but I felt like the geeks really came out of the woodwork once I went to college (or maybe it was just because the ratio of geeks to non-geeks increased significantly).
8. Geeks are Homebodies
I already admitted that I never hung out at Wal-Mart. And it wasn't because I was somewhere else with my friends. It was because I was at home with my family. Dinner as a family was a priority (when else could we do our one-minute talks?!). Supporting each other by attending recitals or T-ball games was required. And doing activities together as a family was expected. Was I akways happy about this? Definitely not. As the oldest of eight kids, it was extremely embarrassing for me to go places with my family. The ten of us were not inconspicuous by any definition of the word. And being inconspicuous was all I really wanted. But you know what? I survived. They were happy events then, and they're even happier events now, and doing those things built strong bonds of friendship that have outlived the embarrassment.
9. Geeks are Principled.
Oh boy. I know I matched this one. I had a reputation for speaking my mind, obeying the rules, and standing up for my values. My conscience pricked very easily (it still does), and I often apologized for my tone of voice or a perceived implication. I turned down many a movie invitation because of the aforementioned family standard. And my sense of right and wrong was very black and white. In the book, MaryBeth Hicks said: "Experts counsel that parents should avoid criticizing children at all costs because it makes kids feel bad about themselves." And then she quotes Betsy Hart who said, "Well no doubt. This used to be called developing a conscience." With all of the current emphasis on raising a kid with a high self-esteem, I really appreciated the reminder that feeling bad about your actions is not only healthy but essential to becoming a personal with high morals.
10. Geeks are Faithful
MaryBeth Hicks makes the distinction between spirituality ("an intimate relationship [with God] as expressed through personal prayer and contemplation") and religion ("the expression of faith in a structured way"). Growing up, my parents stressed the importance of both. Without turning this into a religious discussion, I will say I am very grateful for the strong foundation my religion has provided. My parents instilled their beliefs into me, but those beliefs became my own as I acted on my faith and discovered things for myself. My testimony and trust in my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ has anchored me and given my life purpose and meaning.
As I read this book, I realized there were two aspects of my upbringing that made me incredibly geeky: first, that I was homeschooled. (I don't think you could be homeschooled and not be a geek.) And second, I'm a Mormon, which means there are certain standards already in place which naturally lead to a more geeky lifestyle. So, I loved it that MaryBeth Hicks neither homeschooled her kids nor was she a Mormon (she and her family are Roman Catholics). This was so refreshing for me...to look at the geeky lifestyle from a completely different angle and to know that it can work in many different ways.
It reminded me of a friend I had when I was 17 and 18. His mom wanted me to marry him (naturally...see #4), but he actually really liked me too...probably because he was just as geeky as myself. But although I considered him a friend, I never liked him like that. I remember my inner turmoil over it...was it impossible to have high, geeky standards and be socially adept?
And the good news is, no! Just like MaryBeth Hicks and I are both geeks even though we come from very different backgrounds, I found a geek that I fell madly in love with. Mike is geeky in all of the important ways but without any of the social awkwardness. Which is to say, there are many different ways to apply the geeky lifestyle to you and your family. (And also, in my friend's defense, I lost touch with him, but I'm guessing he outgrew some of his awkward geekiness. To a certain extent, most geeks do.)
And finally just a few technical thoughts on the book itself: I really didn't like all her references to "experts say..." without actually giving concrete sources. (She has a bibliography in the back, but I prefer things to be cited within the context they were given.) Also, she frequently said, "I'm no expert, but..." and it just rubbed me the wrong way. I loved that she wasn't an expert but wished she hadn't referred to the fact so often (but maybe she felt the need to reiterate that point so other people wouldn't criticize her for acting like she had professional expertise. I guess you can't win.)
And finally, if you're going to pay someone to design a cover, I would hope they could turn out a better result than this. The subtitle especially bugs me. Just my opinion.
All in all, this is a parenting book that I would recommend. If nothing else, it will make you think about why you're doing what you're doing, and if it's really leading to the kind of results you want.
But even if I hadn't read this book, I think my kids would still have been doomed. With Mike and me as parents, we'd be hard pressed to raise anything but geeks.