Saturday, June 9, 2012

I Am in Hate with NatGeo

Those that know me are well aware of my addiction to science information.  I love science factoids.  I love learning new science concepts and figuring out the way the things in our world interact with each other.  My innate geekiness is one of the reasons I chose to study chemistry in college.  My love of boring others with this geeky info is one of the main reasons I chose to study education in college.  The thought of having a captive audience classroom was just too much to pass up.

As a mom, I have the wonderful opportunity to share my interest in science with my daughters every day.  My girls are already naturally curious about the way things work, and I try to continually renew their interest in science-y things whenever I can. (A trip to a museum, an aquarium, a zoo, a park to go geocaching, or even a visit to the library's non-fiction section are fun science excursions.)  So, I am sure it comes as no surprise that my kids have subscriptions to Ranger Rick and National Geographic Kids magazines.  They are, most surely, two of the best kids' science magazines available.  And like good little geek-ettes, they love their science, too, which makes mama very proud.

Many moons ago, I subscribed to National Geographic-- the grown-up version.  For years I would get the bright yellow magazines in my mailbox every month and I absolutely couldn't wait to get them into the house so I could devour them.  I would find myself removing the plastic bag they are mailed in as I walked back up my driveway toward the house.  The articles were always captivating and the beauty of the photos was unrivaled by any other publication in existence-- I was in fully-geeked-out heaven with the turn of every page.  Aaaaahhhh.

About six months into my pregnancy with Princess and Birdie, however, I found that my lovely yellow magazines weren't getting the attention and adoration they deserved.  I had a stack of four NatGeos on my coffee table, and at least one of them was still in the plastic bag.  If I didn't have time to read my science mags before my bundles of joy even arrived, chances weren't in my favor that I would have time once I had two new bottoms to powder and mouths to feed.  In light of this revelation, I let my subscription to scientific and cultural heaven expire.

But those NatGeo marketing folks are no dummies.  Of course, a household buying the National Geographic Kids magazine is likely to buy the grown-up version of the magazine too... especially if you offer the magazine at a ridiculously low $1.25/mo.  *Hallelujah choirs*  For $15/yr, I could have my beautiful science fix every month again.  How could I say no to that?!  This would be AWE-SOME!

...or so I thought at first.  Now I'm not so sure.  Now I am pretty sure I hate my favorite magazine.

It all started with an article on the Spirit Bear, or Kermode bear, published last August in NatGeo.  This spirit bear is apparently a white (or albino) black bear.

Now, before I go any further, let me interject that it never occurred to me that Birdie would read National Geographic.  Look at the pictures?  Sure.  But read the lengthy articles?  Never crossed my mind.  Honestly, I find myself skimming the articles as often as I actually read them thoroughly.  Besides, she has the kids version of the periodical sitting right next to my version, and hers is covered with neon font and filled with picture puzzles and riddles and fun information.  And yet she reads mine-- more thoroughly than I do.  Cool, and decidedly not cool, I have discovered.

Anyway-- the spirit bear article.  As you might guess, a white black bear is an unusual thing.  Surprisingly, though, there are quite of few of these suckers in British Columbia.  The article goes on to explain that the albinism trait in these bears has flourished because people won't kill the spirit bear, and therefore they are able to pass on the genetic trait to their offspring.  Birdie was fascinated by albinism and slept with the magazine under her pillow until Thanksgiving.  She explained to her sister what it was to be albino one day in the car on the way to Target.  Immediately upon entering Target, some poor, unprepared, light-skinned-- NOT albino-- African-American woman had the misfortune of being spotted by my Birdie.  "Ooohh!  Ooooh!  Look, sissy!  There's a Kermode lady, right there!"  The woman looked totally confused, like she was trying to decide whether or not to be offended by being called "Kermode."  Princess was confused too.  I guess Birdie didn't explain that Kermode was the same as albino or spirit bear.  "She's not a commode lady-- gross!  I bet she prefers Spirit Lady.  I know I would."  All I could muster as an explanation for the "commode lady" was a grin and a shrug of my shoulders.  Damn you, NatGeo.

The next NatGeo article to cause me grief was called "The Beautiful Teenage Brain" (October 2011).  The article describes how risky teenage behaviors are in part due to the fact that the brain continues to mature into your twenties, so bad decisions are bound to occur in the teenage years.  It also discusses the possibility that risky behavior is part of the evolution of learning to separate from your parents and live on your own.  Essentially, the article claimed teenagers have to engage in some risky behaviors to learn their limitations and know how to make life-changing decisions by themselves.  Birdie LOVED this one.  Every time she would get into trouble for two months after reading this, she would reference this article and say that she was "just practicing her life skills by taking calculated risks."  I tried pointing out that she was only seven and nowhere near being a teenager, but to no avail.  I finally had to threaten to involve Santa Claus in the matter of her "risk-taking" if she didn't behave.  It is not as much fun as you might imagine to have an elementary-aged kid with a college reading comprehension level.  How funny is it that Birdie understood this article, yet I could still threaten her with Santa Claus?!  Ha!

Most of my experiences with National Geographic, however, have led me to believe that this magazine is the perfect way to broach the sex talk with your kids... whether you'd like to or not.  And I most definitely don't want to.  I don't know how I never noticed before!  NatGeo is sex central when it comes to articles on animals and people.  Apparently, we all have a preoccupation with procreation.  Sex sells NatGeo-- even if it does so in a very clinical way, as opposed to a Dr. Ruth way.  Of course, it took Birdie's "curious inquiries" to make this NatGeo sex thing abundantly clear to me.  Doesn't it always?

Last year in March, NG ran an article titled "Animal Domestication" which discussed a study on the domestication of foxes in Russia.  It talked about how foxes took on characteristics of dogs as they became more and more tame.  The article was only mildly interesting to Birdie until this year's article "How to Build a Dog" was published.  The two articles together sparked way too much interest in genetic inheritance and breeding.  Birdie's research led her into the intricacies of breeding and gene selection and inherited traits-- and she found it so fascinating that she wanted to share her new knowledge with everyone.  To her, the information is just benign, factual data to add to the ever-growing database in her brain-- nothing sexual or inappropriate about it to her, because she gets it and that's just how the world works.  Other kids in her class... they were not necessarily ready for a discussion about bitches and sires in second grade.  I'm just glad Birdie's second grade teacher was quick on her feet and was able to gloss over Birdie's comment in class about how "bitches reach sexual maturity at a very young age".  In the wrong hands, that comment could have gone very, very badly!  (Thank you, Mrs. D!)  This favorite topic of discussion led to some very weird conversations and exchanges between Birdie and Princess as well.  Remember the Conversation Endured in the Mommy-Mobile?  Awkward!

The other sex talk I had to endure with Birdie-- thanks to NatGeo-- involved none other than Cleopatra.  The article "The Search for Cleopatra" was published last July, and discussed the life of Cleopatra, as well as speculation about where she might be buried.  Being that this article came out in summer, the magazine in which it was featured ended up in my summer pool bag until late August.  The magazine didn't make it to my coffee table until school started in the fall.  Around this time, Birdie became extremely interested in Egyptian mythology and religion.  (She had just finished reading the public library's selection of Greek and Roman mythology and had moved on to Egypt.)  When she saw the article on Cleopatra, famous female pharaoh, she added the magazine to her reading list.  Once she read the article, I regretted letting her have the magazine.  Instead of focusing on the information about searching for Cleopatra's tomb, which I thought she would find most interesting, Birdie focused on Cleo's relationship with Mark Antony.  Ugh.  The last thing I wanted to hear her ask was, "Mom, what is infidelity?"

Really?!  That's where you're going with this?  How the hell do you answer that question to a seven year old in a way that is: a) appropriate, and b) not completely embarrassing and uncomfortable.

Hmmmm...  what the hell, here goes nothing.  "Infidelity is when a person that is married breaks the promise they made to their spouse to be loyal.  That means they promise to only love and try to make babies with their husband or wife, but then they go do those things with someone else.  Infidelity is about losing trust."

"Oooooh, so it was Mark Antony that was the infidel.  He broke his promise to Octavia Minor by loving Cleopatra."

Uhhhh, Octavia who?  "Sure, honey.  That's right."

"So, Mom, what is seduction then?"

Dammmmmm-iiiiiittt!  Seduction?!  I just about killed myself with the infidelity definition, and now I have to explain seduction?  To a seven year old?  What the??!!!  

"Well, honey, why don't we start with the dictionary's definition and go from there?"


  [si-duhk-shuhn]  Show IPA
an act or instance of seducing especially sexually.
the condition of being seduced.
a means of seducing enticement; temptation.

"Does that help, Birdie?"

"Uhhh, I think so... so Cleopatra talked Mark Antony into making babies with her?  Even though he was married to someone else?  That's kind of mean.  And he's kind of rude and stupid.  Why would they do that?!"

"I guess they really liked each other a whole lot.  Sometimes people make bad decisions.  They make the choices they do because at the time it seems like a good decision to them, for what ever reason.  Some people make mistakes, and some people take risks because they think they won't get in trouble or get caught."

"Oh, now I do understand.  Some people have a teenage brain longer than other people do.  Thanks, Mom!"

Well, okay, then.  I love it when she outthinks me and it works out to my advantage-- makes me seem so smart.

Now, I know you're thinking... Don't let her read NatGeo!  But how do you say no to learning?!  She is going to see this stuff sometime, and she seems completely capable of understanding the science of it all, even if the emotional aspects of some situations evade her.  The magazine is always tasteful about its discussion of "tricky issues", and Birdie always asks questions to clarify points of confusion.  And she is not the least bit uncomfortable discussing anything with anyone... I am the one with the problem there.  Well, me and all the second graders at her elementary school... and the stranger in the supermarket checkout line... and my mother... and the Vacation Bible School teacher... and... well, you see what I mean.

So now, when I see the pretty yellow cover of National Geographic in my mailbox, I cringe a little.  What wonderfully embarrassing topic will be offered up for discussion in this month's edition of my favorite magazine?  Or, more importantly, can I smuggle it in undetected, past the inquiring mind in my living room?

Maybe I should let my subscription expire again, until I am ready to have these little talks.


  1. I just want to say that when I get your post in my inbox at home I send it to my work email so that I can grab a cup of tea and have a relax and read 1st thing in the morning ... it's become my ritual! I can't help but laugh and laugh at your posts. As I have twins I can so relate to some of your stories. I was having a chuckle today and my colleague said whats so funny and I said hey you've got to read this about National Geographic .... and there we say (I told her to get her cup of tea) and we both read and had a fabulous laugh ... you're so funny! I've searched your site and can't find your name. I just LOVE you site!

    1. Thank you so much, Leigh! I don't think I have ever received a higher compliment about my writing. Being a mom of twins, you can better appreciate the added humor and complications that having 2 the same age can sometimes bring. Have a wonderful morning!

  2. How did I miss this? Brilliant!! That kid will be teaching college in a couple of years...just watch!