Posted tagged ‘Family’

The Second Time I Traumatized My Kid – “E.T.”

March 31, 2010

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial/ Rated PG/ Running Time: 115 mins

My name is Dave and I am a good father.  I know I am.  My lovely wife assures me that it’s true.  I hug and kiss my children many times a day.  I read to them, play with them, and try to give them as much attention as I can.  I am confident that I am a good Dad.  However, we all have our bad days.

On our first family trip to Disneyland I wanted to introduce my son to all of my favorite rides.  I didn’t care how old he was.  If he expressed interest in riding Space Mountain, then we were going to get in line.  He wanted no part of the big roller coasters, but he did love “Toy Story”, so I convinced him to try the Buzz Lightyear ride.  Once we got on, he seemed to be enjoying himself, despite the sensory overload.  Then the Evil Emperor Zurg, Buzz Lightyear’s nemesis, appeared, spewing variations of “I’ll get you, Buzz Lightyear!”  The usually not-so-cuddly two-year old clung to me for protection.  I smiled, because a little fear is cute in a child.  Then the ride broke down, a seven foot Zurg towered over us and my son lay in my lap in a catatonic state.  My attempt to initiate him in the joys of the “Happiest Place on Earth” came close to ending with a visit from Child Protective Services.

Since my son’s birth I anticipated the day when I could share my favorite movies with him.  While I would wait to show him “Star Wars”, I came up with justifications to show him other movies as early as possible.  When he was five, my wife and I agreed that it was time for “E.T.”  It was a classic and we had vivid memories of seeing it in the theater when it was such a phenomenon.  Besides, there was nothing “bad” in it.  

Once again, my son appeared to enjoy himself.  He laughed when E.T. dressed up for Halloween.  He worried when E.T.’s friends left him at the beginning and he rejoiced when they returned in the end.  To him, the only confusing element of the movie was the fact that Elliot didn’t wear a helmet when he rode his bike (I explained that the world was a much safer place back then, roads were made out of rubber and it was impossible to crack your skull). 

I wasn’t prepared for his reaction after the movie.  I asked him, “What did you think of it?”  His response was silence, then uncontrollable sobbing.  I had never seen him cry like that before and I have not seen it since.  I can only think of one time in my life when I witnessed a similar reaction, when I was 15 and my mother broke down at my grandmother’s wake.  Did I really force my child into an experience that equaled the emotional response you have after the death of a parent?  I asked him why he was crying, but he couldn’t answer.  This was raw emotion that could not be articulated, particularly by a five year old.    

Maybe I had found an opportunity for a good teaching moment.  However, I didn’t know what to teach, because it was impossible to know what set him off.  Was it the terror of the scientists chasing E.T.?  Was it finding a sick E.T. down by the river?  Or was it the basic fear of being left behind, like E.T. was?  Maybe it was one of those issues or maybe all of them.  One thing was definite.  It was Steven Spielberg’s fault.

Spielberg is the master of emotional manipulation.  He combines all the elements of filmmaking to evoke a true emotional response better than anyone else.   Watching my little buddy bawling, I thought of my own experience with E.T.  I recalled that, surprisingly, this was only my second viewing of the movie since its release.  I saw E.T. in the theater in 1982, and liked it.  But I never wanted to see it again.  When it was rereleased in theaters a few years later, my brother and mother went to see it again.  I refused.  I realize now that I had the same reaction as my son, the only difference is that he was five and I was ten and could suppress my emotions a little bit more.  I didn’t cry when I was ten, but I didn’t want to feel that way again.

I learned something about my son that day.  I was happy to know that he had the capacity to really feel his emotions.  It was a fully human moment and, even if I traumatized him to a point that he had a year long fear of words that ended with the letters “e” and “t”, it was worth it.

I find that it can be hard to determine the appropriate age to show my favorite movies to my kids.  Primarily because I can only guess what their reaction will be.  Should I have waited until my son was older to expose him to E.T.?  Perhaps, but then he wouldn’t have had that experience and it’s the culmination of experiences like that which make up a childhood.  I feel my job as a parent is to expose my children to as wide a range of opportunities and activities as I can, and let them figure out what they like or dislike.  Hopefully, most of the time the reactions will be smiles of joy, but sometimes there will be tears of pain.  Whatever the reaction, I know that it is all part of being fully human.  When I see that, it makes me proud.

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The Joy of Creativity – “Shorts”

March 27, 2010

Shorts/Rated PG/ Running Time: 89 mins
Over Christmas, I sat down with my six year old son and had him tell me a story.  He began with a simple premise of two aliens who need to fix their spaceship to go home.  We’ve all heard that one before.  But then one of them finds a treasure map in the ship’s glove box and they travel to dinosaur land to get the pirate treasure from the king dinosaur who had a castle with disappearing doors and little dinosaur soldiers and they had to go through the jungle and elude traps, Indiana Jones-style and, and, and . . .  unfiltered creative brainstorming.  Now imagine a movie studio executive heard his idea and gave him a few million dollars to film it and you would end up with the movie “Shorts.”
The film is directed by Robert Rodriguez, who is better known for more adult fare like Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn and El Mariachi.  However, nearly half of his films have been kid’s movies, most notably the Spy Kids franchise.  “Shorts” may be the ultimate kid’s movie as it feels like it is a direct feed into a seven year old’s brain, without any adult editing.
A synopsis of this film doesn’t do it justice.  It’s the story of a magic rock that grants its owner unlimited wishes and the consequences for each person that holds it.  The movie throws every idea a kid could ever imagine up onto the screen.  Want crocodiles that walk on two feet?  Check.  Giant robots?  Check.  Booger monsters?  Check.  And my favorite, a Super Genius Telepathic Baby.  The movie is unbridled creativity, which makes it messy, yet beautiful. 
As adults, our creativity is often stifled.  Many of us have impulses to write or paint or sing, but are afraid to follow our instincts.  Kids have a much easier time doing this.  Perhaps it is because as kids we are closer to the creative source.  Or maybe it’s just that adults have been judged and graded and nitpicked so many times in their life that there is a fear of really putting a true thought out there, unless it is considered safe. 
Family movie night is a great time to spend with the kids and share movies that we remember loving as children, but there are times when it can be a teaching tool.  “Shorts” can teach kids (and their parents) about creativity and the creative process, and the joys of brainstorming without critique.

 A game the whole family can play after watching the movie is called “Yes and ….”  The rules are simple, Mom or Dad pick a topic like “we are going to build a new house” or “let’s make a movie.”  Then he or she says something they would want to include.  If Mom says a big living room, then everyone would say, “Yes” (because the idea of this game is to be positive and not to judge any of the ideas).  And then everyone says “And” leading to someone else adding to the suggestion.  It does not matter what anyone says, the key is to accept all of the ideas, even if they are outrageous or impossible (A giant  tank with Great White Sharks is possible in this game, so Dad can’t disagree with this, even if there have been very few Great Whites held in captivity).   You can play with any topic.  Just remember the point is to be open to all possibilities.

Now of course, we adults have also learned that at a point, editing is a key step in the creative process, where we hone what we have created into its best possible format.  But it is important to remember that we need to allow the raw material to be created in order to be able to edit it. 
After all this talk about judgment hindering the creative process, it wouldn’t be fair to really review “Shorts.”  The kids will love it because it is how they think.  Parents can enjoy it by watching their kids’ enjoyment and by challenging themselves to try and be more creative.   “Shorts” reminded me of the power of brainstorming and how much fun it can be to let every wacky idea out.  I’d love to teach my kids to always be free and to explore their creative urges, to never be afraid of being judged, and most important of all, not to judge themselves.  That is the ideal.