When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong, #2: National Geographic: Volcano!
Previously on “When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong” — watching cyclists crash at the Tour de France.
So. The traveling Pompeii exhibit came to the Museum of Science in Boston over the winter (I know I’m late, but I didn’t have a blog over the winter), and we took C to see it. Mainly, I must admit, because I wanted to see it. I love Italy and ancient history, so it was a good excuse for a kid outing which would feature something I might enjoy. And I love the MoS, but was excited to skip my googleplex visit to the space capsule that every kid in Boston climbs in and out of a googleplex times, and see something new.
C was a good sport and perused the exhibit’s displays of Roman art. He was surprisingly interested; he asked questions, and let me explain what a fresco is (“Oh dear mother! You learned ever so much in college! ‘Twas not all in vain! Enlighten me further!”).
But then we came to a video, playing on a loop in a darkened alcove, recreating the events of August 24, 79 BCE. The scene opens on a quiet Campanian summer day. Then, a distant rumble! It quickly ramped up to buildings crumbling, a lone statue teetering on a roof and falling, rampant fire, and a finally, a carpet of blackness rolling toward the viewer. And, scene. And, scene. And, scene. We watched it several times. It was romantically eerie. C was captivated.
One of my favorite things about C is that he’s not a fearful child, by and large. He’s fine with the good old-fashioned dark. He is very matter-of-fact about thunderstorms, and ferocious beasts, and monsters in the closet. So what came into play here was his taste for the morbid – which I wouldn’t put in my top five of C traits, but he’s certainly not alone amongst preschoolers there, I don’t think. Or we just know a bunch of weird kids, I don’t know. And we hadn’t even walked through the casts of the dead yet. When we did, he didn’t really understand them. He thought they were sculptures, and all I could say was that, in a way, they were, and that they help us remember how these people lived and died.
Though I didn’t want to add fuel to the flames of his love of the macabre, I also didn’t want to gloss over the sad truth about what happened in Pompeii; personally, I don’t think it does C any good to pretend that bad things never happen. I know that lots of parents felt the exhibit was inappropriate for their children, and did not take them. And all I can say is that for many children, it probably wasn’t appropriate. Knowing my son, I felt that, with my help, he could handle it. And by shielding him too much from frightening things, I fear he won’t learn how to develop a mechanism to cope. That’s not to say I let him watch films and TV that feature outright violence, or even the (often terrifying) five o’clock news – he doesn’t.
Coming away from the exhibit he had a lot of good questions. What began as a morbid fascination turned into a real interest about Pompeii itself – we even took a couple of trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he was nearly kicked out of the Greek and Roman hall for yelling to his cousin, “THESE SCULPTURES WERE AROUND WHEN VESUVIUS ERUPTED! THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE NO ARMS!”
But while Pompeii was far across an ocean, and far into the past, volcanoes, he realized, were still around. And this did make him a little nervous. There were no tears or sleepless nights (though he did have a dream that he was swimming in a “cold volcano”), but he often wanted to talk about volcanoes, and how they worked, and he needed to be reassured that there are no volcanoes where we live (though someone in his class at preschool told him there was – thanks a lot, kid!). He reasoned that if we found ourselves near a volcano, say on the way to the supermarket or something, we could outrun it. Or our car was probably fast enough.
So we bought him this book, which is written for young readers, and despite the title: Pompeii…Buried Alive!, carefully handles, without glossing over, the destruction of the day. We also got this book on volcanoes, part of DK’s Eye Wonder series, which is great. Both of these became quickly dog-eared. They helped me explain to C that people know a lot more about volcanoes now than they did in the year 79, so that we are much better able to predict and prepare for volcanic eruptions. I remembered when Mount Saint Helens erupted, I told him as we looked at the Eye Wonder book. I was little like you. But many fewer people died during that eruption. It was nothing like Pompeii; they had much more warning, because of science and all that people had learned since.
But these books led to even more questions. Like, how many people died in Pompeii? The number is too great for C to get his head around. I tell him that it was a lot, but we don’t know exactly how many (it was around 16,000). Then, for more answers, I go to the mother ship – the TV! She knows all! Let us check the oracle of Netflix!
I found the video National Geographic: Volcano! on that cursed Netflix streaming. I guess this highlights one of the problems of Netflix streaming – it’s TOO fast. Whatever you want is at your fingertips. You want polar bears? Click. Special on polar bears. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done.
So we just pressed play. I figured, it can’t get more wholesome than National Geographic, right? Let’s watch this! I told him. It will tell you about volcanologists. They study volcanoes so that we can understand how they work. They can walk right on active volcanoes – right next to lava sometimes! And it’s fine! It’s fine! You’ll see!
It’s NOT fine, as it turns out. About fifteen minutes in, after a spectacular montage of volcano action footage that C wanted to watch a thousand times, a group of volcanologists head up a volcano, and only about half of them make it back. Great. Hey, television: it’s one thing to address important issues in a realistic fashion. It’s another thing to make a liar out of me! Thanks a lot!
But he still wants to be a volcanologist. Actually a “volcanologist bike racer superhero.” I wonder, like with most things C does, does he say that to please me or annoy me? I’m not sure. Both, I guess. He is still at the age where he tries to hold opposing thoughts in his head concurrently. Example: I wanted him to sit down and eat dinner. He wanted to say no, just to stick it to me. But he was hungry. After some hemming and hawing: “How can I eat dinner and not eat dinner at the same time?” I don’t know, I told him. Maybe Netflix has a show about that.