Monday, September 19, 2005

On a lighter note ...

A rainy saturday at home.

After a couple of somewhat indigestible posts, today I'm moving back to the vegetarian menu.

This weekend was cool and rainy ... and everyone seemed to be nursing a hangover from a long week (I mean that figuratively; it's a common brazilian expression!). Luckily, cousins Bruno and Mariana dropped by on Saturday to provide much needed distraction from a situation that might have degraded into general bad moods all around. Not that anyone really wanted to do anything, which of course wouldn't stop the kids from complaining that there was "nothing to do".

In the picture above, the kids all are watching "Men in Black II". When I say "all" I mean all of them; Kevin included. There is very little that goes on in our sometimes inconveniently cramped dwelling-space that Kevin is not exposed to or doesn't participate in (or at least thinks he participates in); even watching movies (he can sit through a feature length film) or playing Playstation games. Although they get a kick out of his antics, James and Christian do have to put up with a lot from their terrible-two-year-old brother!

At one point as they were watching MIB II, a scene caught my attention where an "alien" disguised as a lingerie-clad supermodel grows tentacles from her fingertips and sticks them through a two-headed Johnny Knoxville-alien's nose and ears. It didn't even fase Kevin. it'll be "interesting" to see what the long-term effects on his "delicate psyche" will be from growing up in our peculiar environment, saturated as it is with his older brothers' fantasy universe of sword and sorcery, warriors and monsters, aliens and space battles.

I can't imagine what raising "normal kids" must be like. Just to give you an example: whenever Kevin sees the moon, he will narrow his eyes and, pursing his lips, say, in an ominous tone of voice, "Daaaaarth Vaaaaader!". He will often follow it up humming part of Darth Vader's Imperial March.

Imagine how much fun we would be missing out on if we had decided to stick with just two kids!


At September 20, 2005 12:24 PM, Mark said...

Jim, let me preface this by saying that I can't possibly know what it's like bringing up a toddler in a house already full of kids. Kevin is quite the pop culture-ite.

You guys are like the antithesis to me and my wife and our two-year-old. Except when we're at his grandparents' house, Ben sees nothing on TV but Sesame Street, Baby Einstein Videos, or Little People videos. Usually he wathces only one hour a day, and a max of two. He also has watched most of Finding Nemo and a very small part of Toy Story. His first and only movie theater experience, which he sat through like a champ, was Madagascar. He got scared and cried during a home viewing of Shrek 2 before he was two. We don't watch any of our shows in front of him, and typically when I get home from work, the TV is dark until after Ben goes to bed at 8 p.m.

Needless to say, although his daddy is a big Star Wars fan, when Ben sees the moon, he says, "moon," and/or "nighttime," leaving any hint of the Death Star out of it.

We're trying to walk the fine line between balancing his exposure and raising a sheltered kid. Total ignorance of popular culture can make a kid stand out like a sore thumb (nice cliche), but I just don't feel comfortable exposing him to some of the imagery and violence in, say, MIB2 (ahem). At the same time, however, I'll be $&%^# if my kid has his own TV in his room. I make no apologies when I say I think that's ridiculous and often the result of lazy parenting.

Perhaps someone like you, with many kids, can provide some advice on striking the balance.

At September 20, 2005 1:24 PM, Jim said...

"Balance" is something that I have very little of in my life at this point in time, Mark!

But in all seriousness, I certainly don't think there is any reason to go out of your way to expose your kid to something like "Star Wars" before the appropriate age(probably 7 yrs old, maybe 5 or 6 if you really push it ...). Any younger, and they really won't be able to understand anything but the most rudimentary of images. All Kevin really absorbs is this imagery ... the action, the sword fights, the spacecraft, the sinister figure of Darth Vader.

One of the reasons we are building this expansion to our home is that the older kids need a space in which they can cut loose their imagination without intruding so much into our domestic life, and that includes Kevin. Currently, there is just no way for us to "shield" Kevin from their world; at least, not without totally repressing James and Christian.

On the other hand, we aren't nearly as paranoid about the influence that the genre of "fantasy" can have as some people I know are. And we certainly don't want to isolate Kevin from his older brothers completely. Although he ended up watching MIB, (and has watched SW also) we do screen a lot of what he watches, and what the older kids can watch too. We have developed a pretty good sense for the kind of movies and scenes that bother them or are just inappropriate... for example, they have both watched "Lord of the Rings" many times, and even though some of the scenes may seem terrifying, they deal very well with it, especially since I had actually read the book to them before they ever saw the movies. It will be a few years before we will allow Kevin to watch LotR though. I crossed the line once when I rented "Van Helsing" for the older kids; they were both genuinely disturbed for a few days and I had to endure a lot of well-deserved "told you so's" from my wife!

In general, they both have a very clear understanding of the line between reality and fantasy ... and are far more likely to be disturbed by a scene in a movie that is "realistic" ... a human being murdering another human being, rather than a monster eating someone; or a movie with a lot of suspense or high drama. This is something we've discussed with them since they were very young. One of the things that we used to do a lot, but have let slide to some extent, is the nightly ritual of bedtime storytelling... either reading or inventing stories. They still ask me occasionally to tell some of the stories that I invented when they were very young, and correct me when I can't remember the details!

So in summary ... I'd say stick with Sesame Street for your 2-year old as long as you can! You will probably sense the right moment to introduce the rest of pop-culture since they will begin to be exposed to outside influences in school, and will gradually begin to demand more substantial fare from their television and movie experience. And it is very gratifying when you see your kids "discover" some of your passions (like SW), and you can relive the excitement through their eyes!

At September 20, 2005 2:58 PM, Anonymous said...

When you think about movies today, it's pretty interesting to compare what's "scary" today verses what we used to watch when we were kids.

Jim, I distinctly remember two movies from our childhood. I believe we both watched them together. The first was a movie called "Tentacles" which was about a man-eating, giant squid that terrorized a seaside community. I remember a few anxious moments swimming in Lake of the Ozarks after that one. The second movie was "Creature From Black Lake" which was a terrifying (back in the day) story about Bigfoot. If my memory serves me correctly, we both had a hard time getting to sleep after that one. I remember getting chased home a few times by my imagination.

It's just funny. By today's standards, both of those movies were probably about as phony as they come and my kids would probably be the first to point it out...but in those days, it was terror in it's finest form.

Sorry to get sidetracked, just had a little nostalgia sneak in from the backside.

Reading about James, Christian, and Kevin brings back alot of those memories...


At September 20, 2005 6:29 PM, Jim said...


I remember both of those movies well! Or rather, I don't remember the content of the movies that well, as I'm sure they were distinctly forgettable. But I do remember their impact on our impressionable young minds!

Our kids have MUCH higher standards than us when it comes to special effects and especially the amount of action. Over the years, I've rented a number of old films that I remembered as being really nifty when I was a kid, only to find my kids eyes glazing over about ten minutes into it!

We never did finish writing our epic story about the giant alligator gar that terrorized the lake!

At September 20, 2005 6:51 PM, Anonymous said...


At September 21, 2005 9:16 PM, Suzie said...

Hi Jim,
It's your long lost cousin Suzie! Been reading your blog for awhile and enjoy it very much so decided to say hi. Particularly after you mentioned Star Wars. I remember seeing it for the very first time with you and you brothers and sister somewhere in KC. I manage a bookstore and have many twenty-somethings working for me who only know it as a dvd. Hard to believe!

I also enjoyed reading your post on the Katrina debacle. Couldn't agree more with you.

Keep up the good work! When you get your book published I'd love to have you do a book signing in my store!

At September 21, 2005 9:39 PM, Jim said...

Suzie! Hi!

I'm glad you came out of hiding! Wow ... how long has it been!? whoa ... I don't want to think about that!

You are right about us going to see Star Wars ... although actually it was "Empire Strikes Back", in Leavenworth if I remember rightly! Was that in this lifetime?!?

Hey, let me know if you do international shipping of books! Seriously! I could channel some of my Amazon business your way!

Really nice to hear from you Suzie. Send me your email so we can reminisce more efficiently!


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