28 February 2012

In My Room: A Dad Scene Book Report

When one becomes a parent, you will find your personality shifting in a variety of ways. Perhaps it will soften you if you weren’t such a cuddly person before; perhaps it will make you more diligent and aware of what goes on around you, if you were more laissez-faire in the past—since anything, at any moment, anywhere in the world could potentially harm your child.

You may become more sensitive to depictions of children in films and TV, something that perhaps you never thought twice about in the past. Your tolerance for children-in-jeopardy plotlines might be severely reduced, or vanish altogether. So far, at least, I hadn’t found this to be the case. It's easy to watch brave little children suffer nobly through traumatic, tragic injuries or illnesses—perhaps even terminal ones—on shows like Grey’s Anatomy. Perhaps I’d seen behind the curtain so much as to be inured, after all it was just a child actor collecting a paycheck, not an actual child being felled by an exotic disease.

But for the first time, recently, this changed. I actually encountered something that affected me profoundly, exactly because I was a parent. There's a book I read that I probably would’ve found emotionally affecting if I’d read it any time before I was a parent, but that practically punched me in the stomach, repeatedly, reading it as a father.

The book is called Room by Emma Donoghue. So I’m a little behind the curve on this one, as it was published in 2010 and I’m only getting to it now. Which means, most people who will read it, probably have already done so. (It also reminds me of a hilarious blog idea that a co-worker had, in which she would review old movies as if they were brand-new and unfamiliar to everyone—based on her having never seen Pulp Fiction: I don’t know who this Quentin Tarantino guy is, but this movie is pretty awesome . . . )

It’s a difficult book to talk about without giving away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say, it’s all there in the title. It is narrated by a five year-old boy who, when we meet him, is living along with his Ma in a single room that is approximately 11 feet by 11 feet. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not by choice, that they are captives in this confined space. I will say the book is not as, let’s say suffocating, as one might imagine. What’s really of note is the writing itself. As I said, it is entirely narrated by the five year-old boy, which is a fascinating storytelling device. Seeing the world (or Room) through his eyes is compelling, as is his often bewildered reaction to the behavior of grown-ups—much as I’m sure it is for most kids.

As I read, I alternated between wanting to put the book down for good and being completely unable to do so. It is a gripping page-turner with a protagonist you can’t get out of your head. It also made me want to repeatedly check that my son was still sleeping soundly in his room and wanting desperately to wake him just to give him a hug. The book is disturbing and unsettling and made me realize that I really am a parent; that is who I am now. And always will be.

In fact, I’m going to stop writing now and go hug the Doozer again. Until he makes me stop.

Next time in Dad Scene Book Reports, Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. Also published in 2010. I swear I used to read books when they came out. I did. Parenting sucks.

17 February 2012


When I was a kid, I was a bit . . . let’s say, particular, when it came to playing with toys. By far, the most toys I had were Star Wars toys, from those early glory days before George Lucas discovered CGI and decided to inflict permanent damage on our childhood memories.

Anyway, my mother is fond of telling a story about how when a playmate would come over and we’d play with Star Wars toys, I would often chastise the boy for mixing up characters and situations that were not accurate to those depicted in the films. Greedo in the Ewok Village? Jabba the Hutt visiting Hoth? What was he thinking?

Never mind that he was just being a kid, playing with toys (their actual, intended purpose). For me, “playing” was all about recreating scenes from the movies, posing the figures and vehicles in just the precise manner, to replicate what I’d seen so many times onscreen. And then just leaving them. They were like Wes Anderson-style dioramas, minus the handmade quality.

Okay, fine, it was weird. I was weird.

And so it’s interesting now, to watch the Doozer play with toys, a mix of his own and some of mine that I’ve periodically reclaimed from the depths of my parents’ basement. Having never seen a Star Wars film or read a comic book or devoted countless hours to studying nerdy, geek culture minutiae, everything is kind of the same to him. There are no rules, there are no boundaries. When playing, more and more, his imagination becomes his guide.

And it’s a fascinating journey to behold.

For Christmas, we got him a wooden train set, along with a selection of coordinating pieces like street signs, buildings, and vehicles. “Town Village” as he quickly dubbed it, was almost immediately reduced to rubble under an onslaught by marauding, rubber dinosaurs. Eventually, this prehistoric invasion appeared to be thwarted by a motley crew of defenders, including some select members of the Scooby-Doo crew (Daphne and Scooby, if I recall correctly), a wind-up robot, the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America), and a lone X-Man, Wolverine. I hadn’t thought about this before, but even without any frame of reference, he managed to cross-pollinate the Marvel universe, as so many have done before.

Nice work, kid.

More recently, following the Super Bowl, the kid created his own post-Super Bowl party. The shindig was hosted by Batman and attended, again, by the Avengers (or the Vendors, as he actually calls them, no matter how much I try to correct him). All of whom needed to shower and put on their pajamas before the party could begin, reflecting the sequence of events at our own Super Bowl party, where the Doozer got an early bath and was allowed to eat football snacks for dinner in front of the TV in his pajamas. Again, we marveled (no pun intended) at the bizarre digressions created by our son’s burgeoning imagination.

(“Those guys spent a lot of time showering together,” my wife observed afterward, curiously. “I’m just saying.”)

Food at this post-Super Bowl extravaganza was cooked by Scooby’s pal, Daphne, the lone woman who seemed to be invited. And then, apparently, only to cook for all the dudes. Worried that we may have been sending our son some mixed signals about gender roles, my wife quizzed him about Daphne’s role as chef/caterer, pointedly observing that it was Batman’s party and she was a guest and normally we don’t make our guests cook food for us at our parties.

“Batman ruins soup,” the Doozer offered in reply, implying that Batman was a bad cook and that he needed all the help he could get. Puzzled by this line of thinking, the wife found herself unable to mount a convincing counter-argument.

Lately, there's been a random assortment of characters just “hanging out” in the Doozer’s castle, I’m sure much to the chagrin of the king, queen, knights, and horses who were, previously, its only occupants. The castle seems to be under constant attack from a fire-breathing dragon. His “attack” consisting mainly of just sitting on a turret and . . . hanging out. When they can be bothered to coalesce into a cohesive unit devoted to castle defense, dragon-repelling duties fall to Boba Fett, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Darth Maul, and a handful of creatures whose natural habitat is really a rainforest: tree frog, iguana, macaw, orangutan, et al.

Oh, wait, the rainforest creatures are actually the “pets” of the castle inhabitants. That was it. Except for Darth Maul. He has a pet dog. Who looks exactly like him, black and red face, horns on his head. This creature exists nowhere but inside our son’s head.

It’s good to know that even though he is more flexible than his old man when it comes to playing with toys, we are alike in another way: He is just plain weird.

Although, he could have quite a future in entertainment, as long as genre mash-ups remain a durable art form. But come on. Who wouldn’t pay to watch the movie where the Avengers team up with cute rainforest creatures and the residents of a galaxy far, far away, to defend the poor, oppressed citizens of Town Village from rampaging dinosaurs? And in the sequel, they can time-travel back to the Middle Ages and help out with that pesky dragon problem. Add the Super Bowl party and we’ve got ourselves a pretty awesome trilogy.

If nothing else, it'd be better than watching Greedo “shoot” first again.

11 February 2012

The First Time

When it comes to parenting, there are a lot of firsts. Some good, some strange, some wonderful, some not so good. Some pretty bad. In fact, firsts almost become something of a routine. If you really tracked them, you’d find them occurring on a regular basis, possibly even every day. Some you’re able to capture on film for posterity, others are so spontaneous you just have to commit them to memory and hope they don’t get mixed up with all the others.

Some you wish to simply forget altogether.

We just had one of those. One night this week, for the first time ever, the scene at our house with the Doozer was something like this.

Yes. Parenting is awesome.