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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Growing Up

Werewolves, vampires, and zombies have enjoyed a sweeping resurgence in our popular culture. Hopefully, this resurgence has peaked. I get why teenagers and young adults are so drawn to these occult characters. All three are metaphors for the actual changes going on people’s lives from around twelve to about twenty-five. Scary things, puberty, transition to adulthood, loss of innocence, death of childhood, seemingly uncontrollable urges, are happening and fiction provides an escape fantasy and a framework to understand one is not alone.

I think as a youth obsessed culture we have a gaping hole in our escapist literature. What should an approaching middle aged man read/watch/listen to in order to cope with his children growing up?

My almost eight-year old daughter received a phone call from a boy. He is a nice boy. She knows him from school. He played on her t-ball team a couple years ago and I was an assistant coach. She had previously had several play dates with him. Everything changed once the call came in.

I now want to make sure this boy comes over while I am cleaning a shotgun, preferably double barreled. I want to casually mention that they don’t always find the bodies. Why is a boy calling here? Why? First does not believe that this boy has a crush on her. She emphatically denies having a crush on him, although she is coy about another boy in her class.

Sometime after the call, there was a follow up letter, complete with a stamp. First is planning her reply. This all seems so harmless, except it’s a boy and he is interested in my daughter. I think what disturbs me the most is that I didn’t have the courage to call a girl on the phone until I was sixteen.

My five-year old daughter, Second, begins kindergarten this year. In my mind she is a chubby cheeked toddler trying to keep up with her big sister. When I look at her, I see a little girl who likes practical jokes, and is already a t-ball veteran. She told me recently she will only watch Dora if her younger brother or sister wants to watch it because it’s mostly for babies. ¿Qué está mal?

The younger two are just as bad. Third, my almost three year old is potty training. He demands we call him a big boy. He’s an almost three-year old boy, so he does a lot of demanding. Sometimes I think he is an apprentice bank robber. His job will be yelling phrases such as “Everybody on the floor!” or “Slide your wallets and purses to the middle of the room!” or “I want a snack!”. My youngest, almost sixteen month Fourth has begun talking in sentences. Granted half of her words don’t have endings, but still. Watching her walk around with “A Color of His Own” tucked under her arm while calling out, “I wan boo” reminds me that she too will want to attend school.

Dealing with all of these life transitions left me feeling overwhelmed. I dealt with things the only way I know how. I turned to my lodestar of wisdom and calm. I introduced my children, each to a different degree, to a sacred relic. I introduced them to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Each week, for three weeks, we watched a different movie. Episodes IV, V, and VI were viewed and discussed. It was beautiful. (Spoiler alert. I am about to discuss major plot points to  “A New Hope”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “Return of the Jedi”. If you have not seen these movies, you are either Amish and should not be reading a blog, or you are an agent of evil and the only hope of you redeeming your soul is to watch these movies immediately). First was incredulous at the end of “Empire”. “No, he can’t be? Daddy, how can Darth Vader be Luke’s father?” she would ask. Mind blown. Second announced she wanted to be Princess Leia for Halloween. Third began having light saber fights with anyone and everyone. He still walks around the house singing the “Imperial March”, and sweetest of all, my wife reports he fell asleep this week singing, “Duh duh duh, dunt du duh, dunt du duh”.

I don’t really want my children to stay young forever. The fact that my two older children can eat without help, have full bladder control, and can buckle their own seatbelts, makes life easier. I love watching their personalities grow, their jokes become more sophisticated, and their minds expand. I am proud whenever I go to assist my child and they say, “Daddy, I can do it myself” and then they do.

Getting children through childhood is tough. I realize more each day my job is to provide safety and guidance, but they each have to make their own way in life. My wife and I try and give each child all the tools they will need. Being a grown up is serious business, growing up doesn’t have to be. I try and honor every request for at least one bedtime story. I never turn down a cuddle. I always will carry a daughter like a princess to her bed when asked. I always sing to my son when requested.

I also know this is the summer vacation of their lives. When I was in elementary school summer vacation lasted forever. The older I got, the shorter summer vacation became, until one day it was just gone. When the evening meltdowns begin, when some body fluid creates an awful mess, or when the children are in full revolt over reasonable parental edicts, I try to remind myself that childhood is too precious a thing to wish away. Then I hear Yoda’s voice telling me, “Do or do not. There is no try”.

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