My Mum probably wouldn’t self identify as a geek, or a nerd, or a fangirl. But I think she is, and she certainly knows how to raise one. She once asked me to define what a geek was, and I still haven’t answered that question. She asks me very difficult questions sometimes. But since that conversation I’ve found myself musing on where my own geekitude came from.
I think it all started in the late 80s with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mum had told me stories about going to her student union at university to watch the original Star Trek and so was really excited about the new show. BBC2 used to have a regular sci fi slot one weeknight at 6pm, and ST:TNG must have been shown there as I vividly remember having to be ready in my Brownie uniform before it started, so that we could leave the house immediately after the programme finished and just make it in time. Watching ST:TNG with my Mum every week seems to have set several patterns in my life – the idea of appointment television, the idea of organizing other events around watching a show, me having crushes on fictional characters (yes, I fancied Wesley Crusher, but hey, I was about 10, and like several other childhood/teen crushes it has gone full circle from being cool, then embarrassing, and then cool again. Life is odd like that.), it was even my earliest memory of the pain of a season finale cliffhanger (Locutus of Borg messed with my head but set me in good stead to cope with writers doing terrible things to characters I loved).
We watched Quantum Leap together too, and later we watched the X Files. Even through my stroppy teens (and looking back, I was just every stereotype of the whiny teenage girl, I have no idea how my mother didn’t strangle me) I enjoyed our sci fi telly bonding time. I have no memories of what my father or brother were up to during those hours glued to the telly, I just remember it being about me and my Mum. And it wasn’t just about hanging out and mindlessly watching some tv. My Mum often used TV shows to help explain things going on in my own life or the world around me – I have a slightly awkward memory from around puberty of a storyline on Neighbours being used in a discussion about these strange new feelings about boys. My mother even named me after a character from a TV show in the 70s, so me, my Mum, and telly has literally been a lifelong relationship. And the sci fi shows in particular were ones that caused me to ask questions or prompted discussions, and even expand my vocabulary – I remember one episode of the X Files that swapped the usual “The Truth Is Out There” tagline for “Deceive Inveigle Obfuscate” and I had no idea what the latter two words meant, but my Mum did, and so new things were learned that day. I think she definitely instilled in me a love of learning new things even before the love of sci fi was formed.
The point at which the X Files kinda stopped being as interesting as it once was (in my opinion) handily coincided with me turning 18 and leaving home. But the rise of the DVD boxset has somewhat kept this tradition of shared telly going in my mind. I may not get to sit down every week and watch a show with my Mum, but I can make sure she gets to see the shows that I’m finding the most exciting, and it’s so much fun for me when I phone home to find out that my Mum and Dad have marathoned half a season of something I bought for them. And recently watching all of Sirens over the course of two evenings while visiting my parents was like a warm comforting blanket of good entertainment and good company.
And it wasn’t just tv watching that set me up for my life of geekdom. My childhood was full of encouragement to develop my creativity and imagination. My Mum threw the best kids’ birthday parties in the world. They were always meticulously themed and every time she made the theme-appropriate birthday cake herself. The two I remember most clearly are my Jem birthday party, complete with a keytar cake (I have a photo of that somewhere. I can’t for the life of me find it now, but if I do I’ll be sure to post it!), and the time she completely outdid herself for my little brother’s 5th birthday. Like most boys in the early 90s he was a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, and his birthday was a Turtle fan’s dream – all the kids got cardboard turtle shells to wear, and their faces painted green and a bandana eyemask. Mum was dressed up as Splinter and I was drafted in to be April, and the cake looked like a pizza with all its marzipan pizza toppings. Even I, the roped-in-against-her-will big sister, had a great time! The childhood birthday parties are definitely a starting point for my interest in arts and crafts, and my Mum was also a massive enabler of other geeky pursuits – I wouldn’t be who I am today without her taking me to concerts and to the theatre as a child, and then acting as an unpaid and unthanked taxi service while I went to plays and musicals and gigs as a teenager.
So maybe all of these things can finally prompt me to answer that question – “what, exactly, defines a geek?”
A geek is someone who cares about something, who watches every episode or reads every book, and is not merely a passive consumer of that work, but an active participant, be that through asking questions of their mother, or chatting about it on the internet til the wee hours of the morning. A geek is someone who loves something unashamedly, who’ll laugh, cry, and ask really difficult questions. A geek is passionate, completist, sometimes argumentative, often funny. Myself, my husband, my father, my brother, and my mother, we’re all geeks. Not all in the same way, and not all about the same stuff (with the exceptions of Firefly, great cuts of beef, and the collective noun for hedgehogs – an array, dontchaknow – we all agree keenly about them) but we’re a geeky family indeed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank you, Mum, and Happy Birthday!