When it comes to forms of entertainment, I’m not a huge movie person, at least not in the sense of keeping up with new releases or following foreign or independent films. I pretty much never know what movies they’re talking about at the Oscars, give or take a title or two. Don’t get me wrong, if Legally Blonde or Sixteen Candles or some other mindless but beloved movie is on television, it won’t matter that I’ve seen it 21,927 times. I will get distracted by it and watch it again. And again. My husband is amused by this habit. But then I remind him about his equal commitment to Major League and he pipes down.
But I generally don’t seek out the new (or better) stuff. The fact that we just watched Moneyball and Iron Man 2 during the past quarter is groundbreaking. Netflix surely must buy another copy of whatever movie they’ve sent us in our queue just because they know it will be parked in our mail pile for months. Every time we actually go to a movie theater—which has generally been limited to the releases in the Lord of the Rings series—the ticket price is usually $4 more than the previous outing. I’m guessing I will need a mortgage for The Hobbit?
So we’re not movie people, generally speaking.
I also did not grow up with too many Disney movies in my own childhood, except I do remember seeing Jungle Book in the movie theater in Ohio when I was little. Of course access to movies was a lot different then in the pre-VCR/DVD/Blu-Ray/Netflix/Red Box/streaming days, but I certainly missed out on some of the classics nonetheless.
This is all, in part, probably why we didn’t expose M to movies until a few months before she turned 4 last summer. In fact, she saw her first DVD movie (Little Mermaid) and movie theater movie (Winnie the Pooh) last summer on vacation. Then she watched Cinderella in the fall, followed by A Bug’s Life last month. And yesterday we watched Jungle Book, four months after receiving it from me for Christmas. That’s it. She’s seen five movies.
Correction: Five and a half movies. She got through half of The Fox and the Hound before she realized that something might go awry in the fox-dog friend dynamic. Then she asked us to turn it off. So we did.
I am fairly certain this list of movies is FAR less than most other 4.5 year olds.
But it isn’t for lack of us allowing or offering them. Not that we’re pushing movies on her like a drug dealer—though I fully admit to suggesting it more often on long, rainy days when we’ve got cabin fever and I just need a mental break—but we certainly have offered more over the past year to have “movie nights” or watch any of the several borrowed Disney titles from M’s aunt. Almost without exception, she declines. Nope. She’d rather play.
And I’m not talking about rejecting mundane movies that fit into our social values or that no one would want to sit through. I’m talking about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Movies that I am not a huge personal fan of, but I know are among K-Prep pop culture. We offered to let her watch some of those just to see if it was the type of movie she was rejecting, rather than movies as entire genre.
Considering her interest and intrigue in the princess culture (not to mention how little we let her watch TV to begin with), I have to admit this rejection had me very confused. Here we were offering her full access to the very movies that the wands, dress up clothes, tiaras, toothbrushes and every other marketable item are predicated on (and which she is strongly attracted to), and yet she does not want to watch them. Hmmm….
It’s not that we think she needs to see movies in the sense that she will not be a complete person. I may not do as well at Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy because I’ve seen a microscopic fraction of the movies ever made, but I don’t feel like less of a person. I get my kicks in other ways, that’s all. But as M grows closer to five and beyond, I know there are just some movies that for nostalgic or pop culture reasons—not to mention vague social currency—she’s close to the right age to see some of them now and might actually enjoy them.
Admittedly, it also gives me a slight pang when I see the unintended results of her short movie resume, particularly when her friends want to reenact movies that they have seen but she has not. She wants to play with princesses or whatever with them, but takes her own view of what the characters might do. I love, love, love seeing her like this as an independent thinker. I love that she isn’t confined by the movie’s parameters, simply because she doesn’t know them. But then I see her peers not really engaging with her when she does that because she’s not clued in and following the “script”, much less aware of some of the tenor of dialogue presented in these movies. My sense is that they feel like she isn’t as worldly as they are and she is somewhat marginalized because of it. How much she is aware that it’s happening, I’m not sure. In my mind, what you’ve seen on TV or in the movies shouldn’t be the price of admission for play, but the sad reality is that it often is in today’s media obsessed culture. I know she’s young and that over time she’ll find friends more like her and none of this will really matter, but when you see your kid being considered “square” on some level by her friends at such a young age all because of what she’s not seen on TV or in the movies, you feel for her.
No doubt, it’s got me to wondering why she doesn’t seem interested in movies, even the “eye candy” type that are typical girl fare. And then yesterday while we were watching Jungle Book—I thought she might like it because it is nostalgic to me being the one movie I do remember seeing as a kid, at her current age no less—it became clear to me what the problem is.
She’s afraid something “bad” is going to happen. You can see it in her body language and the way she demands that we sit next to each other with no room between us. And she asks a hundred questions throughout the entire movie, the predominate one being “Is something bad going to happen?”
She’s worried about seeing or hearing someone get hurt, not just physically hurt but emotionally as well. I think I’ve said before that she has some highly sensitive traits. She teared up the first time she watched Cinderella when the two step-sisters were talking unkindly to Cinderella. She covered her ears when the music got loud in A Bug’s Life. Her focus on the first half of Jungle Book was what happened to Mowgli’s mother, as in did she drown or why did she give him up as a baby? She was truly concerned about this aspect of the story.
Yet, any story worth its salt has conflict. That’s what makes it a story. In kid films, most of these conflicts are subtle and resolved, usually without gore and violence. You often get to take away a lesson from the story, or, at the very least, the idea that notwithstanding whatever conflict is at hand, people can still survive and move forward. They can pick up the pieces and make it through the tough times. Good versus evil. All metaphors about life, amped up with colorful animation and an Alan Menken or Randy Newman soundtrack that gets stuck in your head for weeks.
Which makes answering her question hard on a few levels. Of course I know the plots of and endings to these stories. Yes, something “bad” is going to happen, but being a Disney or children’s movie in general, it usually will get resolved in due course. Does this mean I should I give them away just so she can watch the movie at ease? Is it fair to give a spoiler, because what, then, is the point of watching the movie in the first place? Do I set her up for disappointment or distrust if these stories, which do usually have a happy ending, do not mirror life now or later on? What if there is something bad that happens? Is that a reason not to watch a movie? Isn’t this the point of books and movies to some degree, to expose us to these kinds of conflicts in a secure environment where we can process it with consideration so that we can be a little better armed “out there”? When do we start to take our fingers out of the holes in the bubble that our young children start out in? Should we lead the way or follow their lead?
I am struggling a bit with the answers to these questions.
Needless to say, going forward we’ll just let her come to her own conclusions of what movies she would like to see and when, if at all. If borrowing Thomas the Train DVDs from the library is her cup of tea right now, so be it. Is “something bad going to happen” if she doesn’t watch the full contingent of G movies out there before she gets to Kindergarten? My guess is no, so long as she has the bare necessities from her dad and me.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz.
Much of the reason I started this blog was to release some creative energy. I started it during a time when the only kind of writing I did was purely legal writing, which I loved, but considering how technical it usually had to be, I often felt constrained by the various realities (the facts and the law), editor (my boss) and readers (the judges, opposing counsel) at play. The blog was my way of tapping into a different region of my brain, putting words into print that did not require a second set of eyes. At best, I hoped to create a written record of M’s younger years to alleviate my guilt for never doing anything with the scrapbooking supplies cluttering our spare bedroom, all while forcing myself to test the writing waters in a more public forum.
I wanted to discover whether there really is an inner writer lurking within, or if it was wishful thinking. I can’t really explain it, but there is a part of me that must write every day. If you are a writer too—either professionally or just for fun—you know what I am talking about. Needless to say, I have answered that question in many ways over the past year, but overall the answer seems to be, yes. There is a writer living within.
So I’ve let her out and I’m going to see where she takes me. I’ve been working in earnest on both some nonfiction and fiction pieces. I’ve got a few freelance gigs going, some articles that have been published. I’ve started listing my occupation as “freelance writer” with more comfort in the past few months, and in almost every case have dropped “attorney” as any kind of qualifier (unless it is for a legal writing gig).
But what’s been great about this personal transformation is that it is coinciding with M’s interest in creating stories as well. And, almost by accident, we’ve found a way to do it together and beyond me making alternate endings to her stale book collection.
One day not too long ago, I had taken out a blank piece of paper when we were going to draw. I should probably mention that M’s interest in drawing has been mixed at best. Among her peers, she’s probably on the more rudimentary end of the scale when it comes to drawing people or other familiar objects. She’s always been a minimalist who just likes to put a few scribbles down on a sheet of paper and then describe what it is after she sees what it looks like. She doesn’t draw with much intent, preferring to back into her drawings after they are done. She also lasts all of about 3 minutes drawing with crayons. Paint buys me maybe another 10 minutes of free time, but there’s a lot more prep/clean up time so it’s a wash. Literally a wash. She is not a neat painter.
So after I had taken out the paper she did her standard scribble and said she was done. She said it was a tree and that was that.
Here is where I should probably mention that I am not someone who likes to pretend play with dolls or trains or pretty much anything. This is where my husband wins the parenting award for “Best Household Playmate”. He is great at playing with M for long periods of time. Unless he’s a great actor, he actually enjoys doing it too. He’s so much better than me in this department and you can practically hear M sigh a breath of relief when he comes home at night.
I like doing practical things with her instead. Cooking. Crafts. Gardening. Things that have some sort of tangible end result. I will do anything to avoid more than 5 minutes of pretend play (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit). It’s just who I am. I used to feel guilty about it, but not anymore. We each have our strengths. We each have our weaknesses. The sight of dolls and toy kitchens are my kryptonite, but I’m superwoman with a bag of flour and a kid in an apron.
Anyway, I panicked when I saw M start toward the pile of dolls on the floor for another round of playing “school”. It was only 3PM on a Wednesday. At least three more hours until Dad got home. Noooooo!
Quickly, I added something to the scribble she drew. I was creating a story. Because I can draw (slightly) better than M, she always likes when I draw something for her. I think all kids are like that. But what surprised me is that she then picked the crayon back up and added something else to the drawing. And she drew with intent this time, really trying (and actually succeeding, considering her skill level) to make it realistic. She told me what it was and gave me the next layer of the story. Then she asked me to draw something else on the picture.
We continued on like this for more than hour. One sheet of paper. Many zany ideas.
First, a tree (M). Then a picnic blanket under the tree (me). It starts to rain (M). The picnickers make a run for it (me). Lightning starts a fire (M). Two birds put out the fire with a hose (me). A caterpillar that smokes cigarettes comes on the scene (M). A huge bird arrives that is going to eat everyone (me). A picnicker that smokes (M).
Clearly, this image will come in handy when M is in therapy for pyromania or hypnosis for smoking cessation. It will also help me when I seek art lessons to draw less phallic fire hoses.
But more than that, M and I have found another way to have fun and not be bored to tears in order to do what the other one wants to do. It’s a joint effort that exercises our creative muscles and we get a lot of laughs out of it. Not being formally schooled in creative writing, I consider it on the job training. For M, it’s just being a silly kid. But we’re both happy when it’s time to punch out for dinner.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz.
My grandparents—all four of them—passed away when I was relatively young, at least compared to peers of mine who have had grandparents around, even today. My first grandparent died in 1982 when I was around 8 years old. My last grandparent died in 1990 when I was in 10th grade. Four grandparents over eight years. They weren’t exactly spring chickens, but neither were they at an age that it was normal to pass away. In fact, some of my great grandparents outlived my grandparents. They were simply gone from my life far too early.
To make matters more complicated, we had moved ten hours away from them when I was four or five years old, so much of my connection to them after that time was limited to a very small number of annual visits. We talked by phone for sure, but it just isn’t the same when you’re a child. Kids need physical connections to help relationships solidify, at least during the early years.
There are a few things about them, for whatever reason, that remain very vivid to me. Like the smell (pressed powder) of my maternal grandmother, Grandma, and the color of her living room carpet (beige-y peach). I recall fondly that my paternal grandfather, Pop-Pop, liked to make paper hats out of the placemats when we went out to breakfast and put fruit in the Jell-O. Small fragments like these hover in the background, but there are not many of them if only because our time together was limited by time and geography.
So, while I have good memories of family trips to visit, I have virtually nothing in the way of specific recollections about their hobbies or interests, or even their personality traits. But, once in a while, one of my parents will mention a little tidbit that I just never knew. When this happens, I feel like a small square of my family fabric quilt has been handed down to me, even though it is not truly my memory of them. Nonetheless, I cherish these tiny bits of history and genetics when I receive them, especially when it turns out to be something that is in common with me.
Like the ones I learned last year, and even just a few weeks ago, about my Grandpa. When I really started gardening in earnest a few years ago, my mom told me that my Grandpa also liked to garden. I thought this was so interesting because I felt like it explained some of my interests. My parents never gardened when we were growing up. Planted bushes and flowers in the yard, yes, but no vegetable gardening to speak of. So the fact that I came to it on my own, and usually successfully so, without any passing down of tricks and tips from my parents always seemed unusual to me. But when I learned about my Grandpa and his backyard garden, I felt like I made more sense to myself. Perhaps I’ve found the source of my green thumb, and that my love for gardening and growing things is possibly genetic or something. Then just a few weeks ago, when I was mentioning to my mom that I would like to start making terrariums and we were looking at some in a gift/gardening shop, she mentioned that my Grandpa also used to make terrariums in the old-fashioned, big glass water jugs. Another square for the family quilt.
It also makes me wonder what about gardening and growing things appealed to my Grandpa. For me, more than just a means to be empowered about what our family eats, it’s a time to escape into my thoughts and feel connected to the Earth. No people. No noise. A veritable paradise for an introvert, with only the weeds and the bugs to contend with. Are these things what drove my Grandpa to garden? I do not know. But maybe.
So, as M and I collect and quarantine our moss for our first terrarium (miniature cow on a mossy pasture in a glass milk bottle) over these next few weeks, I feel like I’m connecting the dots between my Grandpa and her in a very serendipitous way. Indeed, she’s already getting excited about the details of the second terrarium we’re going to make with miniature porcelain birds and a broken egg shell we found in the yard last week. Perhaps there really is some kind of genetic magic at play here. I’m just happy to have found the connection and hope that there are more of these from all eight of M’s great grandparents that surface over time.
For more information about starting your own terrarium—so easy, inexpensive, fun and addicting!—check out these websites, video and books:
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz.
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