Let go of expectations. I say that a lot when it comes to raising “spirited” sons. On the night I take the family out to Le P’tit Laurent, I shouldn’t expect that the boys will actually use forks rather than their hands to lift escargots.
Letting go starts with me not assuming that what made me happy will make my children happy.
Back in Ozone Park, Queens, at Elizabeth Blackwell Junior High, I was the nerd of nerds, and only under duress did I join an athletic team, and that was a bowling league, which counts less as a sport than it does as a means of preparing an adolescent for a lifetime of beer drinking.
So it came to me as a complete surprise that Zane would be on the junior varsity basketball team and Aidan would be on the soccer team. Even more of a surprise was that I was coaching soccer, a sport about which the only thing I knew was not to touch it with your hands. Like escargot.
In management class, they talk about the Pygmalion effect. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who carved a statue of a woman out of ivory. The statue was so beautiful that he went to the temple of Aphrodite and begged her for a bride as lovely. The goddess smiled, and brought Galatea to life.
MORE BY KEVIN FISHER-PAULSON
The theory of the Pygmalion Effect is that the more that you believe in a person, the better a person’s performance will be.
Too often, I’m the pessimist: Even though the glass might look half full, somebody will knock it over in a few minutes anyway. They call this the Golem Effect. Golem was another statue. He was created by the Jews of Prague to protect them, but the longer he worked, the more violent he got and eventually had to be destroyed.
In the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, if the couch is broken, I assume Zane stuck a Lego in the works. If the sump pump breaks, I assume that Aidan was conducting another science experiment. True fact: If you flush 42 magnets down a toilet, you will need to purchase a new sewage line.
Despite all my pessimism, the Fisher-Paulsons keep failing to meet my predictions of disaster. For the first time in recorded history, Zane and Aidan made the honor roll. (Alas, back in Elizabeth Blackwell Junior High, I only ever made the dishonor roll.) But still and all, when Aidan announced that he was participating in the science fair, I assumed the worst.
Now, I stopped taking science classes at the very first opportunity and I never have liked the idea of a science fair. How come they never have an English fair or a social studies fair? Or better yet, a math fair, where after everyone integrates, they sit down to a piece of pi.
The only scientific experiment I had any interest in was the negative effect of science fairs on parents of middle-school children: high blood pressure, insomnia, stress. The night before the experiment was due, I got no fewer than seven phone calls from sleepless parents: “What kind of oak tag do we use?” “Do we have to have a hypothesis?”
Aidan, with his love for animals, had decided to study wolf packs and their territories. I decided to do my own experiment and try being Pygmalion rather than Golem. I said, “Aidan, you have a better head for this than I ever did. If anybody can do it, it’s you.”
Aidan rounded up Uncle Jon to look up websites, and Uncle Paolo to interpret radio collar signals, and me to run out for inkjet printer cartridges, and Papa to cut and paste and make aesthetic judgments, and he ended up with the conclusion that wolves are very much like the Fisher-Paulsons. There is always an alpha, who makes the decisions (Papa), there is always a beta, who snarls at everyone, but really just wants to keep the pack safe (Zane), there are hunters (like Uncle Jon and Uncle Paolo) and nannies (that’s me), and there is the omega. Turns out almost every pack has an omega pup, whose job is not to fight or bite or even howl, but just to break the tension and make the other wolves laugh: That is Aidan.
You may not have known it, but the Randall natural history museum was recently renovated, and the grand reopening is Sunday, Feb. 11. One of their first exhibits (Feb. 25 to March 3) is the best science fair projects in San Francisco middle schools, including “Where Wolves Wander,” by Aidan Fisher-Paulson.
Every once in a while even a Golem can be surprised.