27 February 2014

Enchantment Under the Sea

My kid is growing up. Too fast. Sure, he’s still a kid, but pretty soon, he won’t be. It’s tough.

Last week, he attended his first school dance.

He’s in kindergarten. Kindergarten.

How did this happen? How did it come to this?

The dance was an all-student event, part of a school spirit week. So far, he had not been too inclined to participate. It was a short week, but the first day, all the kids were encouraged to come in with a funny hairdo or colored hair. No go. The Doozer wanted no part of it. The next day, he did wear his school T-shirt and agree to attend the dance. With me.

His mother was disappointed.

“But, Mom, you got to take me to the talent show, so it wouldn’t be fair to Daddy if I don’t take him to the dance,” he offered, by way of rationale. Apparently, we are raising a skilled courtroom attorney. I mean, that’s rock-solid, you can’t argue with that logic.

One of the reasons he was interested in the dance is that he loves music. And dancing, actually. In fact, living room dance parties are a regular activity in our house these days. This is what we do now. I was never much for dancing myself (okay, that’s not entirely true), but since we started introducing our kids to music that isn’t specifically made for children, they have been moved to move and will break into rapturous dancing within seconds of iTunes being launched. Just seeing the little musical note icon onscreen gets Little Brother shaking.

And for me, this is a big part of parenthood. Not just teaching them to navigate the world, right and wrong, things like that. But to appreciate art and culture. Helping build their relationship to pop culture. Even just to dance around the living room, giggling like maniacs. Art will move you, make you laugh. It is important. Yes, you can learn about math and science, how to balance a checkbook, drive a car, how to function like a human being in the world, but without art, what’s the point? Just, exist, as my friend Llewyn Davis might say?

I don’t think so.

And right now, it’s music. And a school dance. We talked beforehand about what kind of music they’d play. One of the Doozer’s current favorites is Pearl Jam. (That’s right, I did that. I got my kid into Pearl Jam. Dad of the year, over here.)

I told him I didn’t think they’d be playing any Pearl Jam. Why not? he wanted to know. I’m not sure it’s an elementary school-aged type of thing, I told him. That’s all. Basically, son, when you scream out “Mind your manners!” in the backseat of the car like a mini Eddie Vedder-in-training on the way to school, you’re pretty much the coolest kindergartner that ever was.

In the end, while the dance offered some highlights, including free pizza and a photo booth with goofy props and costumes (the image of our kid and his pal flashing a giant, Flavor Flav-ish dollar sign still makes me laugh), there was not much actual dancing done.

He was shy.

This was not his living room. That comfortable space where he shakes with abandon, where he can fully let his freak flag fly. There were “a million hundred thousand” kids at the dance. Or some other number based on his sketchy grasp of math and numerals. And so he was shy.

Though they did play some his favorites. We made sure to tell his mom about “Royals” and “Safe and Sound” and “What Does the Fox Say?” and his favorite: “Everything Is Awesome.”

We got a little toe-tapping here and there. Some very quiet singing along with Tegan and Sara. But I get it. Totally. Being in that gymnasium brought back a lot of memories of my own school dances. Sweaty palms and nervous fidgeting. Girls I didn’t have the courage to talk to. Worrying about my moves. All these things that I can’t possibly prepare him for. Or possibly explain. He’s just going to have to experience them for himself. School dances. Crushes. Awkwardness.

Oh god, the awkwardness.

But until then, we’ll have our own private dance parties. Just this morning, to assuage a crying, thrashing toddler refusing to eat his breakfast, I cranked up “Get Lucky” on my wife’s iPhone and started dancing around the kitchen with all the Nile Rodgers-inspired grooviness I could muster. It caught him off-guard. Little Brother stopped his fit for a moment to see what his crazy dad was doing. And the Doozer loved it. Just ate it up.

Kitchen dancing. This is parenting. When I’m tired, frustrated, despondent—I can always think about living room dance parties and know that I’m not all bad at this thing.

Everything really is awesome. I mean, my kid knows The Lonely Island now. How good is that?

07 February 2014

Everything Is Awesome

To say I love movies is perhaps something of an understatement. (I’m sure my wife would tell you that.) Perhaps obsession is more accurate. To the point where I think of episodes in my life as scenes from the movie of my life. (Follow?) As in, this is the scene where my sons and I dance around the living room to a killer soundtrack by Elvis Costello. This is the scene where we drop him off for the first day of school. This is the scene where he meets his brother for the first time.

So, obviously, sharing movies with my kids is big. Introducing him to the Incredibles or the Muppets or Buzz and Woody, these have been some of my favorite experiences as a parent. And since he was 3, we’ve been trying to get him to a theater. I have a very clear memory of my first movie with my dad (no, really) and it was an experience I couldn’t wait to have, a memory I wanted to create with our son.

When he was 3, we did try. And we spent less than a minute inside a theater, in a disastrous, aborted attempt at seeing The Muppets with Jason Segel and Amy Adams. It was too loud, too dark, we saw a few seconds of a trailer. Ever since, he’d always say, “I’ll wait for the DVD.”

Like he’s somebody’s grandmother.

For a while, I thought I might have to wait all the way until December 2015 when they release that first J.J. Abrams Star Wars movie (he’ll be the most appropriate age of 7 at that time), but then something else happened. And this time, we had him. With just three little words.

The Lego Movie.

This one seemed custom-built, specifically designed for him. One, he loves Legos. Two, the main character shares our son’s name (more or less). Three, they both have brown hair (he pointed out to us). Four, they both have cowlicks (we pointed out to him). Five, in the TV ad, they played “Wake Me Up” by Avicii (one of his favorite tunes).

He was sold. He just had two conditions: He wanted popcorn and jelly beans as a movie snack. That we could do.

So we’ve been waiting. And then, out of nowhere, we heard about an advanced screening, the week before the movie opened. And we scored tickets. The Doozer was very excited.

That morning, there was a blizzard. Which we braved in order to get him to the theater. They handed us 3-D glasses. Hopefully that wouldn’t be a problem. He didn’t say anything about it, but really, I can’t imagine what it would be like to see a move in the theater for the very first time and for it to also be in 3-D. That has to be jarring, as much as he seemed to roll with it.

All around us, kids were laughing hysterically. Meanwhile, the Doozer asked for jelly beans. Then popcorn. He watched the film, very serious, almost stone-faced. His expression inscrutable. The wife and I kept sharing looks. Was he enjoying it? Was he asleep? It was hard to tell behind those glasses.

Every once in a while, he’d chime in about a particular minifigure in the film that overlapped with his collection. Or when things would appear that he’d seen in Lego sets on the Internet or in a store. So he was at least paying attention.

Meanwhile, I’m loving every second of it. The movie is brilliant and hilarious and inventive—pretty much everything you would want from a Lego movie. This is our new favorite movie, I kept thinking. We’re going to get the DVD and wear it out. I see a Lego Movie-themed 6-year-old birthday party, an Emmett with the Piece of Resistance Halloween costume. Also, when does the sequel come out?

And then, things started to get hairy onscreen for our heroes toward the end of the second act (as they are wont to do). And finally the Doozer had a reaction to the film:

“I want to go! I don’t want to watch anymore! I don’t like this!”

We tried to cajole him. To reassure him. Suggested that he cover his eyes. Just for a moment. But he was adamant. He wanted to stop watching. He wanted to leave.

I didn’t get it. I mean, he’s watched lots of movies, doesn’t he know what’s going to happen? He’s seen the Grinch have a change of heart and return Christmas to Whoville; he’s seen the Scooby-Doo gang solve countless mysteries and reveal that scary monsters are just disgruntled guys in suits; he’s seen Rocky and Bullwinkle escape from the dastardly clutches of Boris and Natasha; he’s watched Carl Frederickson rescue Russell the Wilderness Scout, Kevin the Bird, and Dug the Talking Dog from the nefarious explorer Charles Muntz.

Surely, he must realize that these minifigures are going to escape these dire circumstances and triumph over Lord Business’ evil plans?

“I don’t want to watch anymore! I want to go!”

And so the wife took him to the lobby for several minutes. I stayed in my seat, watching the film, my joy diminishing by the moment. Sure, the film was still entertaining, but it was just different now. Our son was scared. He didn’t like it. He was over it.

No second viewing, I thought. No DVD. No birthday party, no costume, no nothing. Guess maybe I jumped the gun on that whole new favorite movie thing. Thanks, Doozer.

The credits rolled and the Doozer had not returned to his seat. I was crushed. But then, it turned out he and his mom had stood in the tunnel, watching the end of the movie. We asked him about his favorite part of the day. The movie? The snacks? The fact that his brother wasn’t there?

He told us it was the movie. Awesome!

Back at home, he asks me a lot of questions about what happened. He’s unsure about certain plot points. I tell him that he will probably understand it more after he sees it again sometime. He informs me that he never wants to see it again. Awesome.

But then, as the days go by, he keeps bringing it up. He’s still asking a lot of questions about the movie. Talking about it. Talking about the toys. About Lord Business and Wildstyle and Cloud Cuckoo Land. Almost a week later now and he seems just as interested as ever.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a DVD to pre-order on Amazon. (Quickly, before he changes his mind.)