OK, how to approach this… A few weeks ago Miles brought home an R2D2 toy and a “Learning to Read” Star Wars book. Started talking Star Wars characters and planets (you know, “light savers” and “Dark Tater”… the whole bit). Started making his own light sabers out of cardboard tubes, talking about the next characters he wanted to get. Turns out there’s a sizable cadre of kindergartners who are way into the Star Wars thing, and had even been watching the movies. The school is suddenly swimming with Star wars. Boy-hood had started for real.
Soon after, we went to a Star Wars-themed birthday party. Foam-core cut-out Tie Fighters to bomb with water balloons from the back deck, Stormtroopers tacked to the fence and a rack of Nerf guns to shoot them with, figurines all over the house, the whole nine yards. Great fun, but now Miles wanted to watch the real SW movies.
I never in a million years would have that the actual SW movies were age-appropriate for a five-year-old — we’re still on Backyardigans and Curious George fer cripes sake. Seemed like a quantum leap to go from kid shows to one of the great epics of the 20th century overnight. As of last week, his idea of grown-up TV was carefully selected and filtered episodes of Mythbusters and Man vs. Wild (my own personal TV obsessions), which he watched with me.
Started to doubt myself after learning that a lot of kindersquirts were already watching Star Wars. I was concerned about two things: Amount of violence and plot complexity. Could they even begin to grok it? And what effect would that much violence have on them? Talking to a lot of other dads about this recently, and starting to feel alone. Was I artificially holding him back? Was he more ready than I was giving him credit for? And if movie violence is in the context of an epic struggle between good and evil, and you know good is going to win, and that most of the killing is abstracted to ‘droids, is it really so bad? Especially if you watch with them and explain everything?
And doesn’t every parent who grew up with eps IV-VI dream of eventually watching the whole series in order, with their kids? I did. Just didn’t think we’d be doing this until age 10 or so.
Finally relented and borrowed episodes I-III from another dad. Granted, we were hitting the pause button every few minutes to explain things, but I was blown away, both by his ability to understand the story arc and by the fact that he wasn’t scared. Not one bit. I kept asking, and he kept reassuring me. I started to feel like I really had been holding him back, perhaps babying him unnecessarily in terms of what he could handle. His questions and impressions were so innocent, yet so wise. The death of Qui Gon Jinn seemed to affect him profoundly, but only, as it turned out, because he thought Qui Gon was Anakin’s daddy. Then Obi Wan’s vengeance on Darth Maul gave rise to a discussion about concepts of justice and revenge. The scene of Yoda teaching the ways of The Force to five-year-olds from across the galaxy had him ecstatic. He was getting it all, lapping it up. We were having an awesome time.
Got halfway through episode II tonight, then off to bed. 20 minutes later he starts crying out in terror from his bedroom. Went in to see what was up, and he was barely able to blubber out “DARTH MAUL IS STARING AT ME IN THE HALLWAY!!!”
Lord, what have I done? I’ve traumatized my child, subjected him to things no kindergartner should see. Feeling terrible about this. Held him for a long time, till he drifted off in peace.
Turns out that what he saw was the silhouette of a cute, puffy red dinosaur attached to his backpack, hanging from the door, amplified in the dim light to the standing incarnation of evil itself. Interesting that entire space stations full of souls being blown to fragments seem to have no effect, while the face of the dark side linger in his mind.
What to do next? He’s obsessed with a story, and we’re having a great time, but maybe I should have trusted my instincts and waited a few years. Should we turn off the Star Wars valve tomorrow? Maybe it’s a passing thing. But then what happens when he has to witness Luke doing battle with his own father? The politics of it all are complicated enough – how would I explain that one? We’ll leave this one up to him. If he’s willing to risk another bad dream in exchange for the waking fun, then so be it (but Amy sez: “One more nightmare, and we’re done.”)
Moving out of toddler-hood into genuine childhood, and all of its complexities. Everything becomes less clear-cut. You have to make up some of the rules as you go. But you also have to be solid, and consistent. You have to articulate things to yourself that have been dormant, bubbling in the back of your mind. “If I’m ever a parent, I’ll…” Time’s up. No more abstractions. Decision time.