Friday, February 7, 2014

Wild little beasts

(Programming note: this post was originally supposed to go up yesterday, but in the middle of composing it I suddenly took ill and the rest of the day was pretty much a total loss. Better late than never!)

The little guy continues to be enamored with How To Train Your Dragon, although I did finally send the Netflix disc back. No matter; he basically has the entire film memorized at this point and can recite entire scenes of dialog verbatim. Unbeknownst to him, I ordered a couple of dvd’s of the Cartoon Network spin-off series and they are hidden in my closet, to be dangled as particularly juicy rewards when needed. (Which will probably be soon: report cards came home this week and the little guy has some areas which need improvement, and as soon as my wife and I can schedule a meeting with his teacher and develop a home strategy to complement the classroom strategy, doubtless the prospect of new How To Train Your Dragon stories appearing on the tv will become a primary motivator.)

Anyway, absent the possibility of re-watching the movie he goes back and forth between trying to stump me with probing questions about the nature of that fictional world, and play-acting as a denizen thereof. As is the established standard in cases like this, his little sister usually gets dragged into this as well, and willingly enough. What’s interesting to me is the different ways that the two of them approach the subject matter.

(For what it’s worth, the baby sometimes get caught up in all this as well, generally being assigned the role of one of the smaller and less-intelligent species of dragon as he crawls around at top speed and tries to grab things to put in his mouth. Not that the baby realizes it, but that is a fair embodiment of how those mini-dragons behave in the movie, so good on him, I guess.)

The little guy mainly identifies with the dragons themselves. If magic wishes were real he would certainly request the ability to metamorphose into a Night Fury, possibly even as a permanent arrangement. He has already decided that’s what he wants to be for Halloween, in eight and a half months. He has confessed to me that he thinks it would be great to be a dragon both because he could fly and because he would be strong and fierce and able to breathe fire. I asked him who or what he would want to breathe fire at and he very gravely informed me: “Bad creatures.” So, fair enough. I sense that he’s beginning to comprehend that we live in a world where sometimes bigger and meaner takes advantage of smaller and weaker, and so he’s very interested in at least not being small and weak.

The little girl, on the other hand, is therefore left with the other half of the binary set-up: in a story about a Viking boy and his dragon, since the part of the dragon is already claimed by her older brother, the little girl gets to be the Viking boy. But it never strikes me as entirely by default, either. In much the same way that charging around on all fours and growling and hissing like a monster equipped with flame breath is really only a slight exaggeration of the little guy’s natural personality, having to react to all of that with bravery and empathy is totally in keeping with who my daughter fundamentally is (as much as said assertion can bear any weight when the child in question is not yet three years old). On the one hand, I marvel at the two of them playing together as the little guy pretends to be an untamed creature and the little girl pretends to do the taming, and she basically gets everything right: he’s snarling and pawing at the floor, and she’s bending her knees and her waist to get closer to his level, and holding out one hand in a gently placating gesture, and using a very calm soft voice to say “easy, boy, easy, fella, it’s ok, it’s ok” over and over. Clearly what I mean here is not that she gets it right in the sense of emulating the source material perfectly (although that’s in play, she’s pretty dang close) but more something deeper, that she’s internalized the root idea and is drawing on that. But on the other hand it’s not that surprising, because she’s always been nurturing and caregiving and compassionate (when she’s not having a full-on fist-swinging temper tantrum, of course) so it all just kind of clicks.

As always, the parenting gig is a bit of a mixed bag. It can get a little mentally exhausting sometimes to deal with every single conversation eventually (if not immediately) coming back around to the ecology of Gronkles and Zipplebacks. But having survived similar Cars and Toy Story phases, I know we’ll get through this one as well. At the same time, seeing the kids so taken with a story about trust and cooperation (and questioning authority and lots of other legitimately cool stuff) is fairly gratifying in and of itself.

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