Yesterday I was walking with my son who was working very hard at stepping only on the yellow stripes painted on the asphalt to mark the entrance way to the parking lot at the school. As he pulled my arm down and lunged forward with each step he told me, “there are two kinds of bombs you know.”
“Really? What are the two kinds of bombs?” I asked.
“The one with the handle and the one that’s round and has a curly stem at the top. Those are the two kinds of bombs,” he said.
“Where did you learn about these bomb types?” I asked.
“On t.v. I’ve seen them a million times,” he said.
I chuckled, grateful that my kiddo was not getting information about pipe bombs from a kindergarten classmate. I also cringed inwardly realizing that he had more t.v. time than might be healthy -as if any t.v. time is inherently healthy. These days he is enamored of all the good guy vs. bad guy narratives in a variety of forms – print, t.v. and movie. Someday I know video games will be added to the mix. The games he likes to play at recess all center around good vs. evil. He and his friends borrow characters from Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a variety of other beings they have concocted to act out epic scenes of destruction and redemption on the snowbanks and wood chips of the playground. I don’t necessarily fear that watching too much t.v. will thwart his imagination, it certainly didn’t kill mine and I spent a good portion of my waking hours with virtual friends like Josie and the Pussycats, Wonder Woman, and Marcia Brady. I do worry about the shows he is attracted to because they tend to reinforce stereotypes about gender roles and they include more violence than I am comfortable with having him see. I’d like him to be interested in more nuanced stories so I keep introducing books, shows, and movies that are less black and white in their structure. He tolerates them and will grudgingly admit to liking a few of them, but left to his own devices, he will always choose hero vs. villain. Heck, the kid now hums the Imperial March from Star Wars under his breath fifty percent of the time and I half expect to see a sweep of gleaming black cape enter the room behind him.
Having a son later in life after being raised in a family of seven girls put me on a steep learning curve. I work at not imposing my preferences on my son while instilling my values in him as much as possible. Curiosity about the world comes naturally, empathy less so. Some big ideas need to be revisited frequently, mainly the one about competition and cooperation not being mutually exclusive all the time. In the meantime, I play along with many of his narratives. I battle it out with Lego minifigures making sure I play my part, although honestly he makes sure I play my part. I read every Star Wars Clone Wars book he brings home from the library and I race and wrestle with him as much as my body and ego can manage. He’s becoming fast enough and strong enough now that I don’t have to go easy on him, so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep up with the physical stuff.
It’s uncharted territory for me, raising a boy. Sometimes I feel as though a bomb has landed in my yard and I want to disarm it very gently while holding onto its essential parts. Other times I fear it will detonate somewhere down the road when I can’t get to it in time. Most of the time I just hear it softly ticking, wanting to be known for what it is, nothing more, nothing less.