A while back (when it was out) we took some of the boys to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. It was a complicated day because everyone wanted to watch something different and I think we ended up roping in Grandma to sit with one boy in a film. But then Middlest got scared by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and we all ended up watching Dragon 2.
I didn’t realise at the time that it was a PG cartoon and that it had attracted criticism on the internet for being quite grown up in its themes and treatments. Anyway (and apologies for spoilers) when it got to the big funeral scene, Youngest started crying. I just cuddled him (quite easy at our cinema, the arm-rests go up) and when that scene was over he got on with the film.
But, it has stayed with me for a number of reasons. Firstly I don’t think I appreciated quite how involved and intense their childhood is. They (and I include all my boys, and other spirited children) don’t just go to a film and wonder about what’s for dinner, and critique the actors and think about what the time is. They just dive in and live in that world for a bit, total identification and immersion. Of course, this presents its own raft of problems when it’s not a film, but instead a play activity. Sometimes you need to get them out of Minecraft or Lego and into school or onto whatever other timed activity is next!
Secondly I’m really proud that the other children just accepted crying as something that happens and haven’t ribbed him about it. That’s how I want my children to grow up – accepting of their emotions. In fact, Middlest was brave as well in saying that he found his film too scary and he wanted to leave even though we’d rearranged everything for him to see that film.
Finally I think I like the idea of my children having an emotional roller coaster. Of course, no-one wants their children to be sad, but on the other hand, having a dull monochrome existence could possibly be worse. And I’m too much of a realist to think that they will go through their entire childhood (or lives) with only bright sunny days full of nice things and rainbows. There will be disappointments and sadness – if for no other reason than we have pets which have a shorter lifespan than us. If they grow up knowing that there will be not only bad days, but parents to hug them and support them while they go through them, then can only be good.
One final thing before I sign off. Littlest went out with Grandma for a morning and bought a pre-schooler book to read. This reminded of something I was told a while back. Even when they move through key stages – Littlest is Yr 2 already – there is huge value to be had in going backwards and letting them have play that is simpler. I changed the light bulbs and commented that the box looked like it had eyes. Next minute, Middlest and Littlest had raided the cardboard recycling and had started junk modelling robots. Usually this is a really popular activity for pre-schoolers, but it had enormous value for them to revisit it. After all, how many times have grown-ups joined in with activities for their children, and ended up enjoying it just for itself because it’s fun! So, that’s my message really – enjoy yourself, have sensory play, make stuff out of junk, dig holes, just enjoy!