Friday, October 19, 2012

Parenting, Krupnik Style

My parenting heroes are Katherine and Myron Krupnik. You know, Anastasia's parents. You've met them, right? From the Lois Lowry novels? I've been thinking about how I've been meaning to write about the smiles that Twelve and I have shared when she's done or said something particularly Anastasia-like: Complaining about her oily hair and being embarrassment about my existence. I absolutely love it that we have Anastasia as a common reference; it means I don't have to inflict the Twilight novels on myself to have something in common with Twelve, and I cherish those shared smiles.

Because who knows how much longer we'll have them.

Last night, I realized that in addition to being charming and hysterically funny, the Anastasia books are useful parenting manuals. Anastasia's parents always seem to respond effectively to whatever adolescent nonsense she manages to throw at them. Because I have a policy of not changing my dissertation topic every time a new and exciting idea presents itself, I can't do a proper analysis, but this is a good excuse to jot down a few examples of how my parenting style has been influenced by my favorite fictional family. 

When Anastasia wanders into the room, her parents pay attention to her. Sometimes they carry on with what they're doing, sometimes they stop, but they almost always engage her in conversation. The dinner table is a place to discuss Anastasia's problems and, occasionally, make lists of possible solutions. I am not always great at either of these things - I try to strike a balance between being available and teaching Twelve that it's rude to interrupt - but I have learned that there's magic in follow-up questions, even on the most inane topics. If I bring something up, I get a dismissive one-word reply, but if she mentions something, I can usually gently encourage her to keep talking. As annoying as driving to and from volleyball practice can be, we can't do much other than chat during that time, and she'll often pipe up with something that's on her mind.

The Krupniks take Anastasia and her feelings seriously, even when she's being ridiculous. When she asks her father to take her to the store to buy a goldfish for their new neighbor, Myron agrees, no questions asked. When she tells her mother that she's afraid that she's going to have to marry Robert Giannini, Katherine listens to her concerns and provides useful perspective and advice. Katherine indulges her daughter's feelings that her hair is too oily by offering a new bottle of shampoo.

At the same time that they're taking her seriously, Myron and Katherine tease Anastasia and allow her to tease them back. When Anastasia is melodramatically acting out death scenes and says that she's, like Cleopatra (presumably), clasping an asp to her bosom, Katherine points out that it "must have been a heck of a disappointment for the asp. You hardly even have a bosom." Anastasia chucks a pillow at her mother, and (after a few groaning lessons - Anastasia had been pronouncing the word 'groan' instead of actually groaning) they discuss Anastasia's feelings over coffee and Kool-Aid. Twelve and I tease each other constantly. She's getting pretty good at it, too.

The senior Krupniks allow Anastasia to make as many choices as possible without letting her yank them around; Anastasia decides for herself whether or not to go to California for an aunt's funeral, but within an appropriate time frame. They go out of their way to solicit Anastasia's contributions on matters large and small. Katherine even asks her where a particular bowl should go in the cabinets when they're moving into their new house; it's a tiny thing, and it was asked as a side note when Anastasia came into the room to say she misses her old wallpaper, but it's a clear example of how her parents make Anastasia feel like a participating member of the household. Then, Katherine validates Anastasia's feelings by offering to find out if the wallpaper is still available for her new room. I do this kind of thing as much as possible. It helps that Twelve is an only child and that R is not her parent, but I try to treat her like a roommate as much as I can. A roommate I have authority over, but who gets to weigh in on certain household decisions: We are currently competing with ourselves to see how long we can go without firing up the furnace - I'm not sure why.

Katherine and Myron are always realistic and honest, and occasionally meta: The chances of Anastasia being discovered by the film industry during a two-day visit to LA are, as Katherine says in one humorous exchange, zero. Then, when Anastasia complains that her mom could have been more supportive, Katherine explains her parenting approach: "I'm being honest, and honesty is supportive." I feel like it's important for adolescents to understand why parents do what they do. I often tell Twelve things like, I've already told you x and I need to be consistent, so please don't ask again.

The Krupnik household has a clear intellectual focus. Myron responds to Anastasia's chronic overuse of the word 'weird' by listing a few the possible synonyms ("PHANTASMAGORICAL!"), and when Anastasia mentions Cosmo, he rhetorically points out that the family subscribes to a variety of high quality material. I bribed Twelve with cold, hard cash last summer to break herself of the habit of, like, saying 'like' every, like, other word (which worked, and raised her apparent IQ by about twenty points), and I keep trying to casually hand her the latest issue of our state Historical Quarterly journal. I think she might have flipped through one, once. The Krupnik parents and I share, I'm sure, a sense of resignation regarding adolescent interests.

I know, I know; I left out at least one major theme, and I didn't cite my sources or give page numbers of quoted material. There isn't even a Works Cited section! Luckily, diaries are not peer-reviewed or examined by committee members, and it's your loss if you haven't yet read the Anastasia books, so I don't care.

I'm going to take another look at my dissertation outline now. I doubt that I can work in an Anastasia reference, but I'll try.

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