It's not often you'll find a mother who, when their child reaches the volatile and nutty teenage years, will sit a child down and say, "Look, I know you're going to be experimenting with drugs soon. That's fine — I only ask that you try whatever drug you want to try with me first, so we can make sure you have a good experience and are in a safe place and I can take care of you."
Some would say (and it's these people who also argue that sex education would lead to higher rates of teen pregnancy) that giving a child such carte blanche access or permission is inappropriate or even abusive. I disagree. As a now seventeen year old, on the cusp of adult life, liberty, and the freedom to pay taxes or be tried as an adult, I will say that having an alternative upbringing is equal parts a blessing and a curse … but definitely very educational.
Modern industrialized society has demanded for generations that when a woman becomes a mother, she stop whatever independent life she had been creating and settle down to the task of rearing littles. This belief dates back to the concepts of the genders' separate spheres and republican motherhood, however these beliefs have definitely been challenged and nowadays it's generally acceptable for a woman to have a career as well as be a mother.
But to be a burner and a mother? Or a psychofunkodiscodelic occasionally cross-dressing, spiritually expanding, experimental, wanderer at heart and still be a mother? Or even just wanting to feel like a normal human being and be a mother? That's when it becomes difficult to balance a child's need for a mother and a mother's need as a human being to let off a little steam and maintain a social life, the societal microscope notwithstanding.
Here then follows a handy list for those parents who want to drag the little ones along on life's path — stopping for nothing and no one and doing it their own way:
- It's always better to bring the kidlet with you. Otherwise, and I speak from experience, they feel a little abandoned and a little panicked. Often, having an off-beat childhood experience is really formative for the kid. My friend Jason and his family lived on a boat for his younger years, traveling the globe. Don't sacrifice traveling and doing what you've always dreamed: compromise!
- Go to kid-friendly events. Involve them: Help them make their own costumes, let them help decorate your space. Or, do as some offbeat mamas and papas have done and create a kid-zone yourself. Make your individual space into the community kid-space, which leads to tip number three:
- Find parents like you, so kids can run in packs and look out for one another. At music festivals like the Oracle Gatherings and Phoenix Fest, I saw my mother occasionally to eat and talk and chill and at certain times to check in, but mostly I ran wild as a camp child with the other children. The younglings would be cared for by the older kids and often all the children of the encampment would run together as a single herd, whether they numbered three or twenty.
- Be like a boy scout and be prepared: provide food, shelter and minor entertainment for a child to fall back on and it will be alright. Never underestimate the power of bringing a laptop with movies on it. Instill a joy of reading in your child. Set up the kid-zone yourself, somewhere children can frolic in comfort. Make kids and chill, kid-friendly environs the newest, coolest party accessory.
- No matter what — tuck them in. Just outside the thin walls of the tent, the bass is still going and the lights are casting neon shadows and perhaps you have a lover waiting for you — but all the kid is waiting for and listening for is your voice and your kiss goodnight. If you have night-time rituals like story time or songs, keep them; maintain some sort of basic structure.
- Instill a sense of morals and street-smarts. Explain stranger danger. My father was always very adamant about stranger danger, yet, and this ties back to tips 2 and 3, I never experienced any sense of danger or felt threatened at any event. Generally speaking, loving communities tend to sense and keep less-soulful people out and away. It really does take a village. But make your child's safety and self-reliance assured — if you educate your children and make sure they have good instincts, they'll most likely be fine. Still, tip number 3 is tried and true: let them run in a pack and you can go off and have your fun too. Just make sure your child has a good sense of street-smarts before releasing them into the greater playas of the world.
- If you're going to do drugs, don't do them in sight of your kidlet until the child has had drug education independent from you; definitely don't partake in the illicits during playtime if you have a partner or ex-partner who isn't okay with you smoking jane around Jane. As far as beating the education system to the punch and educating your kid young about alcohol and marijuana — you're welcome to give it a try as long as your babydaddy/babymama is on board, just keep in mind that kids have no concept of censorship: what you tell little Benji about booze, he will tell his friends when he's with them next. Kids like to show off knowledge. Wait until they're ten or older to have that chat with them if you don't want the soccer moms out for your hide.
- Put kids first: if they need you, take care of it. When it comes down to it, there are going to be times when the movies, the wolf pack of kids, and the environment aren't what the kid wants. They just want to rest for a moment, and where they feel the safest is at your side. Let them snuggle up to you for a few quiet moments, even if the people around you are giving you the "get that child out of here" look.
- Be patient. Children are crazy, egotistical creatures. As someone who's just come from this developmental phase, children don't understand (or really don't care) that they're interrupting your conversation because they're exhausted and cold, and they expect or need you to do something about it. When it comes down to it, you are both a mother and an individual, but the difference is that while you may be fighting in your eyes to preserve yourself as a person, your child has yet to even develop a self: they are reliant on you to explain and show them the world. So be patient with their neediness. Eventually, they'll bounce off again to play or fall asleep. Either way, you can get back to your conversation once the tyke has mellowed out and gotten their share of mama-love.
Kids really aren't all that bad, though some will always argue against their presence at festivals. However — it is entirely possible and encouraged for parents to play up their child's cuteness for their own benefit, which leads to tip number ten:
- Position your offspring to the highest advantage: in 2004, my mother and I attended Burning Man together. I, being an industrious and adventurous little squirt got a job in the food-service part of our camp. This kept me occupied and involved and relatively out of harm's way. I always made sure to run three bowls of food and drinks to my mother and her friends. They never had to wait in line, I was very rarely encroaching upon my mother, and I felt involved and important and was relied on in the kitchen. Everybody won.
And finally, in case this wasn't clear:
- Have fun. Dance on the stage with your tots, wear matching make up, dye your hair together and sing about Chihuahuas and the Simpsons and speak about politics and religion with them; when your kids are older, consider teaching them how to make their own drinks and give them personal anecdotes when the time seems right. Philosophize with them; treat them as a developing person. Love them, provide for them, but let your hair down while you do it.
Just remember this; if you're an offbeat mama or papa, you will have an offbeat kid. Half of who a person is depends on their environment in their early life — expect your child to be a little individual: don't expect them to have much comfort or understanding of "normal" society or respect a higher authority. Expect them to be exactly what you made them: artistic, independent, expressive and outside the box.
Your offbeat kids will want independence and recognition far before they're ready for it. Having adventured with adults, they will be verbose and free-thinking. Just remember that when they reach their teenage years (and whine on and on about how nothing the education system is relevant and how you worry because they're going to raves and smoking weed on the weekends), relax. Take a breath, and offer sane, logical, non-judgmental advice. Set ground rules, but not limitations. It's all about compromise. Give them freedom when they're wee, and they'll expect it all their life.
So, as an offbeat kid from an offbeat mama, do I recommend my childhood lifestyle? Sure. Yes. I don't think there's any one way to correctly parent. I also don't think children and parents really recognize the other as individuals for a while, which leads to tension and conflict, and makes the lovely metamorphosis process a real bitch.
Remember: you love each other. Kids turn into "sane adults" once the hormones die down. And kids, your parents will never be normal. There's no such thing; we're all young and wild at heart and we all have our own things to dance off and out of. Stay offbeat!