Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11, 2011 ~ Day 213
Dancing With STAR WARS

A week ago my son tried out a new dance class at his studio ~ the 'Hip-Hop Boys Club'.

Although he expressed worry over leaving the female teacher that he's had for five months (and the little girls he's grown used to dancing with) I could tell that he also felt pretty excited about meeting other boys his age who also love to dance.

As it turned out there were about seven boys also attending the class AND a "Boy" teacher - a very talented African-American man with tons of energy.

My son perked up as soon as he saw the other boys begin to stream into the studio, and by the time I returned to pick him up from class 50 minutes later he was virtually glowing with happiness.

Unlike time spent with the more docile little girls, who have tended to be more quiet and shy, the lively studio was now bursting with action and noise - everyone full of SPARK.

My son stood at the front of the line and danced with exuberance, following his teacher's lead to the letter. In fact, when the music finally stopped playing he ran outside to let me know that HE had won the 'freeze dance' ~ some kind of fun game where the children freeze in place when the music stops. "I was the best!" he sang out. "I won!"

This new hip-hop Boys Club had quickly taken my son's love of dance to an entirely new level. "It was SO GREAT Mom, I can't wait until next week!"

Just as we were about to head back to our car the dance teacher called my son over and asked, "Did you tell her? Did you tell her?"

My son giggled and shook his head.

"Mom," announced the dance coach. "It's time, Mom. Your boy has GOT to watch STAR WARS. We're learning a STAR WARS hip-hop dance and he's the only one in the class that doesn't know the sounds that a Jedi knight makes with the light saber."

I laughed out loud.

The truth - though I didn't want to say this in front of all of the other little boys standing there - is that *I* have never been the person holding my son back from watching STAR WARS. It's him! He is the one who isn't excited about the series.

Which is ironic, because his four year old brother is completely enamored with all things STAR WARS, and for his fourth birthday he requested (and received) only STAR WARS toys and a STAR WARS lunchbox. The younger brother loves nothing more than to pretend that he is Darth Vader and play "bad guys" all day long.

STAR WARS has actually caused significant friction in our household, because his older brother HATES playing bad guys. He only wants to be a good guy, and he doesn't like playing any kind of a game with violence. (Um... go figure. Anyone who has read this blog will know how confusing that is to me...)

My oldest son has rejected STAR WARS from the beginning of the new craze among his buddies. He looked through one book in the bookstore, pronounced the pictures 'too scary' and since then has rejected it outright. Even when his baby sister, age 2, demanded a light saber of her own for her birthday (she chose a fierce red one) our eldest still insisted that STAR WARS was 'too much fighting', and for once he had no interest whatsoever in getting the same toy as his siblings.

So there we were, standing in front of the hip-hop/tap studio, with a dance teacher suggesting that we go home and watch STAR WARS right away so that my son would be able to help choreograph a dance to it. I didn't want to embarrass my little guy in front of his friends or teacher with the truth, so I just laughed out loud and said to my kid,

"Is it time? Okay then buddy, I'm fine with that - whatever you want! We can watch it as part of your birthday!"

"Yes!" my son shouted - because, at that moment, he'd forgotten about his deeper feelings and really DID want to watch STAR WARS. The peer pressure had done its work quite handily.

My husband and I really don't have a problem with those movies at all for our boys, so we agreed that we'd rent the film and view it after spending his birthday at the local theme park.

"Hurray!" our sons shouted.

Deep down I wondered about how this would play out. My three children could not be more different from each other, and each of them has incredible strengths. They have their own unique personalities; and their own disparate sensitivities.

In my gut, I felt that our 2 year old daughter would be more likely to enjoy a movie involving fancy guns and light sabers than the 6 year old... not because he isn't old enough; but rather because of who he IS. He is simply a more sensitive little soul, and watching violence has always really upset him. (I know, I know... go figure. Somehow it's all related, but I haven't wrapped my head around it yet.)

I could see that he'd gotten sucked into the hype in the dance classroom, but knew that the desire for STAR WARS wasn't instinctively his. For lack of a better description, peer pressure had pushed him toward something he wasn't a big fan of. I wondered whether his views would change once he actually watched the film.

I myself love the STAR WARS movies. They remind me of being a little kid and watching "The Empire Strikes Back" on Beta-Max with my friends. I thought it might be a real pleasure to sit with my husband and boys to watch this little piece of my own childhood come to life on the flat screen.

Why not give him the chance to decide for himself how he *really* felt about those movies?

Maybe it was time for him to graduate a bit from PBS Kids cartoons ~ which would be just fine by me. You can't keep your children tiny forever. Luke Skywalker seemed a perfect guide to usher my son into "real boyhood" at the age of six.

* * * * * *

That said,

I didn't want my kid to feel stuck doing something he wasn't (maybe) ready for. I decided to give him an Out just in case he needed it.

Very casually I mentioned to him that STAR WARS is a great movie but not always for everyone... and that if for whatever reason he decided it wasn't for him right now, that would be no problem.

"It's your birthday," I told him. "You can choose any movie you want to watch after we get home from our day-long adventure and have dinner. We can give STAR WARS a try and if you aren't into it for some reason, just let me know."

"I'm going to like it!"
he replied confidently.

"Of course you are. I'm just saying, if for some reason you don't, it's no big deal. Just let me know and we'll make a change."

"Okay, Mom. You're funny, Mom."

* * * * * * *

Tonight when we arrived back home from a long day at the theme park, exhausted and starving, we realized that neither Amazon Instant Video nor Netflix Streaming Video offered STAR WARS Episode 4 - A New Hope. This is the first of George Lucas' original STAR WARS films, and my husband and I agreed that it was the one we most wanted to start our kids with.

Our good friends had recently watched this film with their own little boys and assured us that the violence was minor and mostly off camera. It seemed like the right film to give our boys a taste of the lives of Jedi knights.

So, after much telephoning ~ and nearly making a 30 minute drive to the bookstore in our city that said they had one copy available for purchase ~ my brilliant husband located a copy at the only DVD rental place left in our part of town. He took our sons to pick it up, and for the grand total of $2 we were the proud renters of this coveted episode for two full nights.

"Yay!!!!" the the boys cheered. "STAR WARS!!!"

We don't typically watch movies with our meals but tonight, my husband said we could make an exception and so all four of us (after putting the baby girl to bed) sat in our living room eating red wine pot roast and watching the opening credits of this timeless, classic movie.

I read aloud the opening credits and introduction to the story, and our four year old was instantly riveted and full of questions.

"Are those the good guys mommy?"

"Are those the bad guys mommy?"

"Who are those robots, mommy?"

"Where is the princess, mommy?"

"OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH.... is that Darth Vader mommy?"

The six year old stayed very, very silent though - especially during the scene where the Imperial army boards the rebel ship and starts shooting red light at the rebels, making them fall down.

Right around the time his little brother waxed rhapsodic about Darth Vader, the six year old turned to us - very pale - and quite urgently begged us to turn the movie off.

"I don't want to watch this!" he cried. "Please turn it off. Turn it off. This is going to give me bad dreams."

"But *I* want to watch it!"
responded his little brother anxiously. "I really want to watch it!"


I stood, and walked over to the DVD player, "today is your birthday. If you don't want to watch STAR WARS, that's just fine by me. On our birthday we get to pick the movie we watch."

"But Moooooommmmmmmmmy, I DO want to watch it!!!"
whimpered the little brother.

"Why don't you and I watch it tomorrow night, while your daddy and brother do something else together?"

he quieted down. "What are we going to watch tonight then?"

"Curious George! I'd like to watch Curious George for my birthday!"
interjected the bigger brother.

"Done," I smiled

... and that was that.

Within five minutes of turning on the new film, our oldest son had calmed down. The color had returned to his cheeks and he smiled and laughed at the antics of the little cartoon monkey on the screen. "You see, Mom," he turned to me... "I like this movie. He's actually a very cute little monkey."

I nodded. "I agree."

* * * * * * *

Tomorrow I will write or call my son's dance teacher to explain the situation as it is... and request that they figure out a way to include him in the STAR WARS hip-hop dance routine without actually obliging him to watch the film.

As I've reflected on this experience as a mother, I can only conclude that each child we bring into the world is his or her own unique person. The same two parents with the same set of 'values' can sire three children, and each of those children will have different talents, interests, hobbies, friends, world views and sensitivities.

In the end, I don't think my son's aversion to STAR WARS or violent cartoons is a maturity thing. He demonstrates sincere maturity in many situations, and less maturity in others. I'd say he's pretty normal for six years old.

He simply has a thinner skin and lower tolerance for viewing aggression than some kids do... he's just a bit more sensitive, and there's nothing wrong with that.

My own mother (his grandmother) can't stand watching violence of any kind - and she is 73. She's seen plenty of violence in the 'real world' during her years of life, and yet she still doesn't intentionally expose herself to things that bother her.

Even I still turn my head briefly into my husband's shoulder when we watch certain movies. I just feel like life is rough enough and I want to relax when I'm on a date.

So, maybe our son gets his aversion to watching battle scenes from my side of the family.

In the end though, I'm just glad that my kid is getting to know himself better and making the choices that he feels comfortable with.

From my view, it isn't the capacity for initiating violence (or hardening himself to viewing it) that will make my son into a Man... rather it is his capacity to proactively *restrain* himself from committing acts of violence which demonstrates true strength and self-control.

Whatever his reasons may be for avoiding STAR WARS or other violent films or cartoons, I truly respect my son for articulating his stress and anxiety rather than just acting out ~ and for making a different choice that felt best to him on his birthday.

I hope that in years to come my son will manage to stay true to himself (and his deeper instincts) in this natural way, even when 'all of the other boys' may be heading down a more popular or commonly traveled path.

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