When my son was about 5, he lost his first tooth. He placed it under his pillow and went to sleep. The next morning (if you can call his regular 4 a.m. wake-up time morning), he opened his eyes, found the dollar under his pillow, and fell completely and totally head over heels in love. With money.
He started looking for money everywhere we went: on sidewalks, in the car, between the cushions of his grandparents’ couches. One time he found five dollars worth of coins at my mom’s house. All of his cousins danced around him, asking for some change.
He shrugged his shoulders, turned away, and said, “I found this money. Go find your own.”
Perhaps in other families this is regular kid behavior, but in the borderline commune where I grew up, his comment was equivalent to a massive torpedo launched straight at my mother’s heart. Hadn’t she raised me in a house where we always shared everything? Where there was an open door policy for homeless people, international travelers, and anyone down on their luck? Where we were instantly suspicious of anyone who drove luxury cars or wore designer clothes? After all those years of instilling liberal values in her kids, she was not going to stand by while her grandson went to the dark (aka Republican) side. At least not without a fight.
Before I could stop her, my mother took my son to the side and gave him a stern lecture about sharing and family and contributing to the greater good. She managed to wrestle 30 cents from him, which she distributed to the cousins, all the while clicking her tongue and shaking her head at me.
This was only the first of many speeches by mother about my son. When he was 6, he made a cookie stand, charged double the market value, and wouldn’t share any of the profits with his little brother (who, admittedly, did nothing but eat the cookies). When he was 9, during the presidential elections, he read about how Republicans believe that people shouldn’t be required to pay high taxes to fund welfare, and he asked me how he could be a Republican.
And most recently, before his first day of sixth grade, he looked over at his long-haired brother, rolled his eyes, and informed me that if I didn’t do something soon I would be raising an unemployed hippie.
I called my mom later in the day. I laughed while I related the story to her. She didn’t. In her eyes, the fact that he has Republican tendencies is some sort of failure on my part. What matters is not that he’s a brilliant, ambitious, charismatic kid who is almost certainly going to become a wealthy mogul. For her, what matters most is that he learns how important it is to give to others, especially family.
The truth is, I share her sentiments. As a bleeding heart liberal, I’ve talked to my son about the charities we donate to and about how many times we have helped and been helped by others. I’ve sent him to hippie schools and made him listen to Bob Marley. I’ve schlepped him on outings with my dreadlocked, hemp-clothed friends and their gaggle of children.
But, alas, all of these attempts at liberalizing my son have, if anything, sent him running even further to the right wing. Some days I look at him and wonder if that massive crush I had on Alex P. Keaton as a teenager has somehow worked itself into my genetic code.
It is very tempting to see our children as extensions of ourselves—the best (or worst) parts of who we are exaggerated and grown into separate beings. But, the truth is, they are so much more than that. They are the product of millions of genetic combinations, of their neighborhoods, their friends, and the media that they are exposed to.
My son is a good kid. A smart kid. And, well—a kid. He has a lot of growing and maturing to do before he really decides where his political leanings are. I must admit, I’m still hopeful that one day he will join us on the liberal left, but I know that it is not my job to teach him what to think—only that it is important to think.
And if, in the end, he really does become a Republican, he’ll always be welcome at our family commune. As long as he brings the cookies.