Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Bird and Batman

Responsible. Knowledgeable. Mature. Sensible. Cautious.

Words that should describe a parent. Though, obviously, not always. Just because one has a child doesn't mean one is any of those things. However, one can only hope that eventually a parent will acquire such traits.

When my ex and I started our divorce proceedings (in another state), we were required to take a parenting class on how to deal with children of divorced parents. I laughed at first; I was not required to take a class on how to raise a child and be a parent, yet I have to take a class on how to effectively separate from my spouse without totally damaging my child. In the end, the class was effective, if not yet applicable as our daughter was only a year old. It's a fact of life for her that her daddy doesn't live with her mommy. To her, it's always been that way. And even at 4-years-old, we've had the discussion as to why we aren't together anymore: as we got older, we realized we had different ideas and grew apart from each other. It's the truth, if not all of it.

When you become a parent, you are no longer responsible for yourself only. HomeEc classes in high school (rare as they are) teach teenagers the "joy" of taking care of an egg or flour sack. Take it with you everywhere you go and make sure you don't break it before the assignment is over. What isn't taught is that while taking care of a baby is hard, you only have to take care of a baby for a few years. Then you're raising a child, a tween, a teenager, and an adult. It is an 18+ year commitment (longer if the child stays home while going to college). Taking care of a baby is easy, you feed it, you burp it, you change it's diapers, you put it to sleep. For a year or two, it's the same routine over and over again. Then everything changes. Now, instead of a baby, you have a little person who depends on you to teach them everything about life.

My daughter is very perceptive and aware of her surroundings. Occasionally we listen to music on the way to school/work, but most of the time, we listen to the local news station on the radio. She always knows the date from the radio. "Today is Wednesday, August 13th, 2008." Everyday, the radio tells her what day it is. And everyday, the radio tells us news from around the world. She pays attention to everything; she has the "Sit 'n Sleep" tag line "You're killing me Larry!" down pat. She knows the whole commercial for a copper re-piping company from start to finish. But she also hears the sad stories about people who were killed in car accidents or robberies gone bad, etc. And she asks the tough questions: What does "killed" mean? Where do we go when we die? Do we come back from heaven after a while? And though I do my best never to lie to my daughter, since she is only 4-years-old, I soften the truth a bit. "You die when you are hurt so bad that your heart stops and doesn't pump your blood anymore. Killed is when someone hurts you so badly that you die." I don't go on to explain how people die when they are killed, and she hasn't asked me yet. I dread the day she does, because her world will change completely. I want to shield her from that for as long as possible. She should live in a world where Big Bird and Oscar live on the same street as regular people and worms go to outer space.

In the past month, I have seen two movies: "The Dark Knight" and "Wanted." One PG-13, the other R (though in my opinion, both should have had R ratings). Both very good movies (again, in my opinion), but very violent and graphic. Hence the ratings. As most responsible, knowledgeable, mature, sensible and cautious adults know, R means restricted to persons over the age of 17 unless with a parent or guardian, and PG-13 means parents should really think about the content of the movie before letting a child under the age of 13 watch it. Again, here comes the part about not being responsible for only yourself, but for what your child experiences as well.

So why, at these two movies, did I see more than 2 families in the theater with children under the age of 5?? Did they think their kids wouldn't watch the movie? Or perhaps they thought their kids would just gloss over all the blood and guts and violence? Children are more aware of their surroundings than many adults realize. Maybe it was because they couldn't get a babysitter for the night. I'm sorry, but if you can't afford or find a babysitter so you can watch an R rated movie, then either you don't go, or you go in shifts. Dad sees the afternoon showing and Mom goes after the kids have had their dinner. But you don't tout your entire family to the theater just so you can have a good time. And just because you're an adult and responsible for those children, doesn't mean you can just say "I give them permission to watch this film" just because you want to see it. Very young children would be disturbed by the violence, and because they cannot process what they see in a rational manner, they could experience it again and again in dreams. Slightly older children take in the violence differently, either thinking that it is cool, funny, or normal. Many times during "The Dark Knight" did I hear children/tweens laughing at the twisted mind of the Joker. The character, while well played, was sick, and demented. Had I met this man on the street, he would have given me the chills and I would have crossed to the other side of the street. But these kids were laughing at the psychopath, like he had just belched the alphabet.

It took everything in my power to not walk up to the parents, and ask that they leave and come back without their children. I'm sure others would have like to do so, not for the sake of the children, but because the children were distracting from the movie. And that does irk me some, to spend $10+ on a film to have it interrupted by crying or toys being shaken. But what bothers me more is that these "parents" seem to think that their title and role gives them permission to be careless, all in the name of selfishness.

While I don't condone using the TV as an all-day babysitter, if you need 30 minutes to shower or cook dinner, by all means, let your tot watch Big Bird. But don't make him watch Batman blow things up or assassins shoot bullets through people's skulls just because you need a break. Either find a babysitter or wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it when the kids are sleeping.

Thus ends my rant on humanity, or lack therof

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My fearless child, friends and I on Tower of Terror at DCA

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