Monday, September 24, 2012

Helicopter Parenting

On Saturday, I attended a musicology symposium. I learned about the history of video game soundtracks and scouted potential research participants. I also witnessed one of the finest demonstrations of helicopter parenting I've ever seen.

I arrived at the lecture theatre shortly before the first session was due to begin, and sat myself down in the centre of a row about two-thirds of the way back, where the view would be ideal and the chances of having to sit next to someone minimal. I was about to relax and enjoy the fact that I was not presenting anything when a middle-aged woman in track pants and sneakers marched her husband and two university-aged boys into my row and sat down next to me.

She turned to me with a great big smile. I groaned. (Inwardly. I think.) She wanted to know if I was presenting a paper. Not today, I told her. Neither was she.

“I don’t write papers anymore,” she said, “except for my sons. I write my sons’ papers.” She laughed and I laughed too, even though I was a little confused. “These are my sons,” she said, indicating the two boys sitting beside her. They appeared to be nerdish undergrads of the variety one might expect to find still living at home, both sporting shaggy hair, t-shirts and too-short jeans.

One of them was scheduled to give a talk on film music. His mom scooted him up to the podium with a pat on the backside, which, for his sake, I pretended not to see. The chair of the session was a bit frantic because he's a bit of a character and we were one minute and 45 seconds behind, and he told the kid – who had the deer caught in headlights look at this point – to hurry up and get his slides on right now, because if he ran over he’d be cutting into his own question time.

So the clock started and the poor kid buried his face in his notes and read at such a ferocious pace that he finished what should have been a 20-minute talk in 13. His mom sat there next to me gasping, flapping her arms around, trying desperately to signal him to slow down. Eventually, she buried her head in her hands and I could only hope that he wouldn’t choose that moment to finally look up at the audience.

When question time rolled around, the mom wiggled in her seat, laughing nervously and a bit too loudly. She threw out extra comments here and there. The woman was so wired up she had me on the edge of my seat, expecting the kid to pass out, puke, and/or lose all powers of speech at any moment. Surprisingly, he fielded his questions perhaps not confidently, but competently. Even more surprisingly, he turned up in a couple of the other talks I attended – without his mother – and asked well-informed questions at both.

When my parents visited in March, they were exceedingly well-behaved. Dad brought his camera to the lab and Mom engaged in some maternal boasting, but they didn't call me Lambchop once. That's how it's done, lady. You need to let that boy go. And kid, for the love of all that is holy, flee the country as soon as you can.

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