The Family That Geeks Together

I've always been excited to introduce my kids to my favorite fandoms; but they've also introduced me to theirs.

There’s nothing like the thrill of fandom, the pure pleasure of sitting down to watch your favorite show, the characters you’ve come to feel like you know. To the truly invested, it’s like visiting a beloved vacation spot or going back home after you’ve moved away.

My relationship with my mom was pretty much always problematic, always under the shadow of my mom’s poor mental health and abusive behavior. But she gave me a wonderful gift, something I credit with being responsible for some of the best parts of who I am.

Mom was an avid devotee of two things: Disney and science fiction, especially Star Trek. She taught me how to embrace my deep and abiding love of something with little concern for what anyone else thought.

She taught me the joy of pure fandom.

I can recall with vivid detail many memories of being a young kid in the late 1970s to early ’80s with my mom. I remember jazzercizing with her in front of the shiny wood console TV set, pale sunlight streaming in from the back porch through the sliding glass door. I remember the glow-in-the-dark ghosts on a Scholastic poster stuck to my bedroom door as she sat at the edge of my bed under my Strawberry Shortcake canopy tucking me in, the smell of Johnson’s baby lotion in the air.

But my favorite memories are of the nights when my dad was working his 24-hour shift every third night at the fire station; my little brother tucked away in his bedroom, I would creep into the living room and climb onto the hideous but roomy cream-rust-and-brown patterned velour sofa, curl up next to my mom, and watch Star Trek (now known as Star Trek: The Original Series) on syndication late at night. She always let me stay up late when we were watching Star Trek. My mom loved that show, and because my mom loved it and I was small and wanted nothing more than to be with her, her long, auburn hair smelling of Finesse, her arms round and warm, I loved it, too.

I remember watching the movies when they came out, completely freaking out over the infamously cringy earworm scene in The Wrath of Khan. When IV came out with its less-than-subtle ecological proselytizing (they had to go back in time to save the whales in order to save humanity from a future alien threat), we watched it in the theater. By then, I was a pretty committed fan. I remember sitting in the crowded theater for the opening next to a guy who showed me some of his Star Trek comic book collection and thinking how cool he was for being so into his show.

Mom loved other sci-fi too, and she was fascinated with “documentaries” about alien abductions and paranormal events. I loved it all, especially the amazing female characters who played such a critical role in helping me define who I wanted to be as a woman, strong role models like Xena and Gabrielle, Ellen Ripley, Dana Scully, and Sarah Connor.

Of course, nothing in my mom’s life compared to her fanatical love of Disney. A devoted Disneyphile, every two years she’d busy herself with obsessively planning a full-on Griswold-scale family road trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. These two- to three-week vacations were both ecstatically fun and horrible at once, like a dramatically bleaker version of National Lampoon’s Vacation, funny in the dark, cringy way of ’90s independent films or a depraved carnival with magical, marvelous sights to behold while dodging knives, swords, and evil clowns. To a hard-luck kid like me, organized religion of my Southern Baptist church had offered little in the way of tangible comfort or help. But the beautiful universe of It’s a Small World and EPCOT connected with my need for hope profoundly. However Disneyfied, the theme of universal love for all humanity resonated deeply.

For both Mom and me, fandom offered an escape from the pain of everyday life and a message of hope.

These days, geek culture is mainstream, with stores like Hot Topic and Books a Million catering to the clearly widespread acceptance of fangirling over anything from classic video games to manga to superhero worship. But back when I was growing up, it was just not cool to let your freak flag fly. Many times, I had tried and failed at being cool, but my love of fandom, however private an affair it was for me back then, gave me something to connect with and look forward to despite living in a home under the siege of the painful cycle of psychological abuse and mental illness.

Every night in high school, exhausted by trying to hang on and feeling unloved, I settled into watching Star Trek: The Next Generation or Xena: Warrior Princess. Like any good literary work, they offered me the chance to live the life of someone else, to connect with something incredible.

It was inevitable that geek culture should become mainstream between its obvious connection to consumerism and the advent of the Internet. By the time I was a parent, geek culture had been completely transformed.

Parenting can be the ultimate expression of fandom. It is an opportunity to share something you love with a new generation, and in many ways, it offers a chance to relive the thrill of the first time you fell in love with your favorite show. I always imagined bonding over Star Trek and The X-Files with my own children, and that has certainly happened. But before I ever had the chance to bring the kids into my own fandoms, they brought me into theirs.

Geek families aren’t afraid to get weird together.

When Arthur was small, his dad was the one working through the night as a bartender. Arthur and I would stay up late together snuggled on the sofa, and in an effort to find kid-friendly fare that was also palatable for adults, I started watching Doctor Who for the first time in my life. Arthur became a fast fan, and Doctor Who fueled his love of drawing; soon he was drawing daleks and TARDISes all over the place. We binged every season, and Noah and Lucy soon caught the bug. Eventually, the kids got me hooked on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Supernatural, Stranger Things, and Psych, and we fangirled over every single episode, having watch parties for season premieres and finales, ranking our favorite episodes, developing fan theories, searching for spoilers online, and generally nerding out. Arthur in particular is twice the geek I ever was, introducing me to several mangas and animés, but all my children have developed a serious love for creating fan art and fan fiction. The difference is that they claim the term “geek” proudly.

We’re slowly working our way through all the things I want to share with the kids, and our family’s mutual love of fandom is a serious part of our family identity.

Saving people, hunting things, the family business.

I love that fandom gives us a way to connect with each other, a way to be silly and let go of ourselves. No longer an escape from the pain of my life, fandom is an expression of the soul of my life, the joy my family brings.

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