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Posts tagged ‘Star Wars’

The spoiled child: how do you surprise younger siblings?

Spoiler alert! Six-year-olds love Star Wars. Particularly in Lego format. I was that age myself when The Empire Strikes Back came out. I remember the tie-in Happy Meal I received.  And I remember being lined up in a school hallway with my first-grade class, and the hot topic was Darth Vader, I think, and his relationship to uh, somebody, I won’t spoil it for you in case you are one of the few people in the world who hasn’t seen the movie.

Oh wait a second, I just Wikipedia’d the release date for The Empire Strikes Back. Revision: the movie I remember being discussed in the hallway, actually, wasn’t The Empire Strikes Back, it was Raiders of the Lost Ark. [That’s right, I remember now: everyone just called it “Raiders” to sound cool, and no one cared to discuss the theatrical re-release of Cinderella I had seen…right right.] In any case, it was some adventure thing I didn’t care about and didn’t see. It’s Harrison Ford in some macho role or other. It’s all the same to me. The Happy Meal was definitely TM George Lucas, though.

Rats, that would have been a great lead-in to this post. But I digress. Back to the point: it occurs to me, as I look around my house, where I live with a six-year-old boy, and a three-year-old boy, and their Star Wars-loving father, Lucas detritus is everywhere. There are Lego Star Wars figurines strewn about the floor in every room, some with heads, some not; the series DVDs are never far from the TV set. When we play in the backyard, we don’t need swings, or even a ball; all that’s required is a few large sticks that become lightsavers (“They’re lightsabres! Even I know that,” I keep telling them). Roles are assigned, and there’s a battle royale; the boys alternate being Luke Skywalker and Hans (sorry – Han!) Solo, and I am usually assigned C3PO, or Princess Leia, and halfheartedly swing my sabre while trying to make the point that Princess Leia doesn’t need saving; she’s fighting bad guys too.

Even when the six-year-old is at school discussing the minutiae of the planet Hoth with his compadres, and we’re at play on our own, the three-year-old still wants to pick up some sticks and fight bad guys in space. He still wants to be Luke Skywalker through most of his day.

When my older son was that age, he was more interested in The Wiggles: things that were cozy and sweet.  His father didn’t introduce Star Wars to him until he was well over the age of four (he waited as long as he could stand). Things are different this time around; with an older brother around to worship and emulate, the little one is growing up so fast, all consumed with the epic battle for good over evil, so he can stay in step with his idol.

Those “few people in the world” I mentioned earlier, who have not seen the Star Wars franchise? Aside from grown-ups who don’t care for space games, who else can those people be, but little brothers and sisters? And how do we stop them from being exposed to secrets they are not ready to learn yet? Like the fact that you-know-who is you-know-who’s father?

As much as I like to make fun of my family for their adulation of George Lucas, the Star Wars films (and no, I don’t mean the ones with Hayden Christiansen, I know I know) are absolute classics, and it is one of the wonders of childhood to watch them and revel in their big moments. It’s almost like Christmas morning, the look of surprise on the face of a kid when the moment of truth comes in The Empire Strike Back; it’s like unwrapping an enormous gift. But it can only happen once.

At three, my little one is not ready for that revelation. It’s one thing to play at using the Force in the backyard, but he is simply too little to watch the films, where the violence is of a much more intense variety that a backyard twig fight. But when the background noise of his daily life with big brother is all Star Wars, all the time, how do we make sure that he will stay unspoiled, so that he can enjoy that moment to its fullest, gasp-inducing extent when he is ready for it?

This conundrum goes beyond Star Wars as well. My six-year-old’s teeth are falling out at an alarming pace and I, as Tooth Fairy, like to leave him a surprise under his pillow from time to time instead of cold, impersonal cash. But the three -year-old, as my personal shopping assistant, is very astute, and saw the special electric toothbrush I bought for his brother and tried to hide at the bottom of the cart, behind boring things like toilet paper and vegetables.  Did he make the connection the following morning when the same toothbrush appeared? If he did, he still doesn’t have the words to express it. But someday, perhaps sooner than he should, he might just put it all together.

And how will he believe in Santa, when his brother no longer believes? And the Easter Bunny? Not to mention every other book or movie his brother will read or see ahead of him. It’s powerful ammunition to have, this information, and I hope it is a long time before big brother realizes that he can wield it.

In the throes of busy days, I can’t police every moment. I can keep him from watching Star Wars on TV, but I can’t ensure that the boys’ playacting is spoiler-free. For now, I can only rely on the fact that three is still very young.  As incredible as his capacity to remember every kind of detail is, his ability to forget is almost as strong. He was, as I am sure he has forgotten, a baby not too long ago. But then again, they change and grow faster than my parenting can keep pace with, so that might not be true for very much longer.

Tomorrow morning, the Tooth Fairy will likely have been here. And that (spoiler alert!) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sticker book might look awfully familiar to a little certain someone. Maybe I will just stick to cash.


Angry Birds Star Wars: O evil marketing geniuses!

Birds, Pigs and the mediator (Asi Cohen) posed...

Birds, Pigs and the mediator posed for a photo shortly before talks broke down. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several months ago, I wrote a blog post about my decision to stop letting my four (now five) year-old son, C, play Angry Birds. It’s been about seven months, and all has been fairly well: keeping him away from the addictive game has diminished how much he fights about relinquishing the iPad when his time is up. It’s allowed me one small parenting victory (just one is all I ask!): he has become much more understanding of the fact that the iPad is a “sometimes” toy, rather than an all-encompassing center of the universe. And with no Angry Birds, he is much more interested in playing games directed towards children, built to be more like open-ended toys, like the Toca Boca games, or straight-up educational games. Lately he’s been playing this Montessori game which repeatedly drills him on the geography of North and Central America with no discernable end or even pretend achievements like stickers to keep him going. He probably thinks, “I can’t play anything fun, so I might as well learn where Belize is.” Is this something to be proud of? I’m not sure, but I’ll go with yes. Come on!

Can any of YOU pick Belize out on a map? Didn’t think so.

So the Great Experiment worked: he’s dropping out of kindergarten in the New Year to head to Yale on a bassoon/Geography/handball scholarship. Well, no. But I do think he got something out of it.

Until now. We are sitting at the dining room table on a Sunday, as little brother naps, doing crossword puzzles and coloring and computing, all while eating bacon: a collection of fortifying family activities for a brisk fall day, all in aid of our goal of leaf-raking avoidance. C just achieved a bevy of points in a reading game on the iPad. How does his father reward him?

I see him swiping at the screen. Swiper, no swiping!

Oh man! After months of keeping the birds at bay, turning sharp corners in the supermarket to avoid the Angry Birds gummy candy displays, and not commenting on the fact that his kindergarten teachers dressed as Angry Birds for Halloween, we are back at the trough. Angry Birds Star Wars has proved too much to resist. C’s Dad looks at me sheepishly as he hits BUY in the App Store.

Those Finnish geniuses. They know you might be able to resist plain old Angry Birds. But if you are Star Wars fans? Like this father and son duo I’m looking at right here, pondering how to chuck a Luke Skywalker bird at some Storm Trooper pigs? The force is too great. It can’t be escaped, just as Han Solo is trapped by the carbonite. They’ve pulled us into a Sarlacc pit in a nexus of perfect marketing synergy. I am trying to think of more Star Wars metaphors, but I’ve run out. Like I’ve written before, I’m not much of a Star Wars fan myself.

I suppose I am OK with C returning to the game. Maybe it’s because I have never gotten over my mother denying us certain toys when we were kids, practicing something, what’s that called again? Oh, restraint. Play-doh? Play don’t. Easy Bake Oven? Ask my sister how that request was handled. I respect that tactic now, but at the time it was a bummer. So though I am trying to teach my kids that a trip to into town is not cause to treat yourself, I can’t resist sometimes, when I see something I know they will really like.

Which is all the time. Those things that I know my kids will really like know how place themselves right in front of my face. Are my spending habits so easy to peg, O marketing gods? I am constantly confronted with versions of Angry Birds Star Wars every time I shop, those perfect combinations of favorite things: Spider-Man Matchbox cars? Synergy! Must-have! Bubble Guppies iPad game? Do it. Lego Star Wars, Lego Dinos, Lego Fire Trucks? Say no more. Candy that looks like Legos, gummies that look like Dinos? Yes. Switch and Go Dinos? It’s a car, it’s a dino, it’s a car, it’s a dino…it’s on Santa’s list.

It goes for me as well: how does Target know that I will totally buy them out of Orla Kiely-themed Method cleaning products? That seemed kind of specific, but apparently I am not the only one who so clearly fits into that Anglophile, green-clean loving, bargain shopping demographic.

Anyone who knows me, including the marketing elves that clearly follow me around, knows I bought a ton of these.

So I sympathize with Swiper McGee over here, although we will have to see what the consequences will be. There will be a lot of talk, as there is at this very moment, of the powers of the various bird-shaped Star Wars good guys, and we will have to listen. And if the fighting over the iPad returns, Angry Birds Star Wars is going back to its galaxy far, far away.

Christmas is coming, and my boys are still a bit young to come at me with an Excel spreadsheet of their demands – they don’t really have a lot of expectations for what they will receive, and it’s my job to keep it that way. And maybe because, throughout the year, they are gifted with things they didn’t even know they wanted, it keeps the pressure off Christmas to be a gift-fest. I hope.

Instead of charging into stores with long lists, we can focus on all of the other things about the season that we really enjoy: driving around looking at Christmas lights, decorating the tree, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, making gingerbread houses. Do they make Star Wars Millenium Falcon gingerbread house kits? I’ll have to look into that.

The Thunder-and-Lightning Brothers and the battle of good over evil

We live in the Boston area, so seeing guys standing around in full colonial garb is no uncommon sight. We’ve seen them waiting for the bus, hanging out eating ice cream, what have you. But as the boys and I were driving through Lexington the other day, I performed an awesome Boston driving maneuver and flew to the side of the road, to the closest available bad parking spot.

“Get out! Come on!”

We dashed down the sidewalk to a guy in modern dress with headphones who showed us where to stand. And we stood, transfixed, as a full Revolutionary War battle reenactment played out before us. Now, that you don’t see every day. Well, you do see it on Patriots’ Day, but none of us feel like waking up at 4:30 to go the Battle Green. Maybe someday.

In the park below us a formation of Redcoats, their drum steadily thumping, flag flitting the in breeze, beat a measured path to a group of Minutemen, confused, rag-tag, but determined. And then the (pretend) guns went off. I had my arms around each of the boys; I could feel C’s heart leap in his chest. The baby? Not a blink. He’s that stone cold.

Unprepared for the gunfight, the Minutemen fled to the nearby woods. Then they ambled back, and started the scene again. “What is this?” I turned to a spare British colonel on a Dunkin’ Donuts break. “It’s for the Discovery Channel,” he said haughtily. So I asked the headphones guy. “Did you like it?” he said to C. Nod. “It’s for a show called How Booze Built America.” Sounds awesome, but I guess we won’t be watching that one en famille. And by the way, Colonel Crueller? Just chill. You’re not Clint Eastwood.

We watched the battle unfold a few more times. C had lots of questions. “This isn’t a real battle, right?” No, I assured him. They are showing us what happened right here, more than two hundred years ago, so we can learn about how America was founded. And how Fish-House Punch was so integral to said founding. “So which are the good guys and which are the bad guys?”

Good guys and bad guys. It seems like C’s whole four-year-old world can be boiled down to that dichotomy. I first started noticing C parse the world this way while watching Star Wars. “Are those guys good guys? Are they bad guys?” he asks. Then I realized most of his play revolves around good guys and bad guys, whether it’s pretending at Star Wars, his favorite superhero, Spider-Man, or turning me into a villain who makes him get dressed and eat vegetables. Heroes and villains and their epic battles have such a hold on preschoolers. Even when they turn off the TV, or shut the book, the battle rages on. It’s how C approaches Legos, playgrounds, dinner, everything. Bath night is Waterloo every time. What is it about the battle of good versus evil that appeals to C and his ilk so much?

As a so-so literature student, I often gravitated to a book of criticism by Northrup Frye, called Anatomy of Criticism. It’s quaint to even think of Frye as quaint now, I think. But C’s superhero aspirations reminded me of the archetypes of literature Frye lays out in that book that I enjoyed bungling so long ago.

Here, let me oversimplify it for you. It’s fun. In the book, Frye lays out four seasons of literary archetypes. There is comedy (Spring), romance (Summer), tragedy (Fall), and winter (Irony). (Can you see why this book made for an easy, last-minute essay?) These superhero stories that appeal to C so much belong to Summer, romance. Not kissy-kissy romance, but tales of quest, of good battling evil. The hero who embarks on this quest embodies the ideals of a particular society; they are threatened by villains who don’t share their ideals, and try to stop them, thereby saving the world. It’s starting to sound an awful lot like every episode of Spectacular Spider-Man I’ve ever watched. And it’s Star Wars. Beowulf. It’s cowboys riding off into the sunset. If you think about it, many children’s TV shows take this form: Dora the Explorer besting Swiper (in her lame way); Phineas and Ferb against Doofenschmirtz; Super Why against, uh, illiteracy, maybe? You see what I mean. Through these kindergarten romances, children get their first introductions to literary tropes that they will revisit through their entire lives.

C has devised his own superhero identity. “Please call me Mr. C. Lightning,” he said (it’s funnier with his full name). “And this is my sidekick,” pointing at the baby, who he’s slapped an extra cape on. “T. Thunder. Together, we are the THUNDER AND LIGHTNING BROTHERS!” The Thunder and Lightning Brothers find that the most efficacious way of saving the world is running up and down the hall multiple times yelling until T. Thunder bumps into the wall and falls down. Evil (and my patience) vanquished.

Mr C. Lightning and T. Thunder.

In their own minds, preschoolers are romantic heroes, living in the center of a black-and-white world. Frye describes romance as having a “perennially childlike quality.” Their plots are rooted in adventure; they are linear, and “at its most naive, [romance] is an endless form in which a central character who never develops or ages goes through one adventure after another until the author himself collapses.” Sounds like a typical day. Though, unlike a superhero, who never ages, our preschoolers will take what they learn now and move on to the other seasons: comedy, tragedy, and teenaged irony. Oh, that’s going to be fun. Then after that, life is just one long Seinfeld episode.

But until they grow into a sarcastic world, full of stasis and reluctant compromise, the Thunder and Lightning Brothers are my boys of Summer, all dreams of perfection that they tirelessly try to achieve until they collapse into Spider-Man sheets at the end of the day. And I guess, as their mother, I’ll have to put up with being the villain, the force they rail against as they try to figure out their places in the world. Eat this, get down, come here, stop that, no! No! No! But it won’t be this way forever. Someday they’ll realize life is not all stark opposites, that things change. Right now, I’m Mother England, and they’re young America, tossing dinner on the floor like tea into the harbor. But someday, we’ll be friends. Right, British people?


Updated: You heard it here first, or maybe second: How Booze Built America will be on the Discovery Channel on September 19.

My lack of interest in Star Wars is starting to be a problem

Han Solo - Bespin Outfit

(Photo credit: ChrisM70)

I remember going to the movies with my parents and two sisters in 1984 – Sixteen Candles and some Star Trek movie were both playing at the Fantasy. My mother wanted to see Sixteen Candles, my father: “KHAAAANNNN!” Guess who got shot down? Never mind that Sixteen Candles probably was – no, definitely was – totally inappropriate for us, all age nine and younger, but this was before the PG-13 rating. And there are lines in that movie that I am just getting today.

Growing up, I never had to be interested in Star Wars. The fact that I am conflating it with Star Trek here shows you just how uninterested I am, and always was. We were a house full of girls; there was no brother collecting action figures and yammering on about Boba Fett incessantly, like my husband did as a child (so I am told). And my father’s taste even departed from KHAAAN and morphed to the ladylike; he, a tissue, and Steel Magnolias: a perfect Tuesday evening. So now that my son is becoming a Star Wars fan, I am not prepared for the deluge of intricate questions about the films that has been unleashed.

Of course, girls can be interested in Star Wars. Of course of course. My six-year-old niece can recite the whole scrolling text bit at the beginning of A New Hope (which is what I guess you’re supposed to call it), and once compared something she saw to Han Solo getting stuck in the (hold on while I Google “Han Solo getting stuck in the“) – carbonite. She’s the best.

(What was I into growing up? Anne of Green Gables. I can tell you whatever you want to know about that book. The whole series, in fact. I’ve been to Prince Edward Island twice [Philistines: that is where the series is set]. I read it to my son in the womb. It worked; he’s a frickin’ genius.)

I know that the Star Wars movies are epic and incredible and legendary pieces of filmmaking. I’ve seen them all and liked them all to varying degrees. But I could never get swept up in them, which is what I suppose you must do if they are to take hold as a lifelong fascination. And if you are to know every detail by heart. It’s just not my favorite thing. Maybe I’m the philistine.

My husband could hardly wait to sweep our son, C, into the Star Wars fold, and when he turned four, they had a special movie night and watched the first one. Or the fourth one, or whatever you’re supposed to say. A little young? Maybe. My husband was C’s age when he saw the first one in the theatre, and he turned out all right, I guess.

Watching C watch it, I can see how these movies have become an essential part of American boyhood: a light went on behind his eyes, like the light of a thousand light swords – er, sabers. It set his imagination ablaze as it had never done for me. And after he saw Return of the Jedi, what with all the Ewoks, he couldn’t contain his excitement; he danced around the living room, carrying on about how it was the best movie he had ever seen “in his life!” Then he fashioned himself a Storm Trooper get-up and light-sabered his little brother, who was supposed to be Yoda or somebody.

So finally, my point: C is super-into Star Wars, and he thinks about it all the time, and has questions about it all the time, and I have no idea how to answer most of these questions. Is so-and-so good or evil? What flying vehicle does some such character drive? Why is Han Solo so cool (actually, I can answer that one)? I have several options for answering these questions, depending on the nature of the question:

1) Answer the question. Who’s Luke Skywalker’s father again? I can handle that! Spoiler alert! It’s Boba Fett.

2) Just make something up. He’s four, and most of it is going over his head anyway. He’s mainly watching for the flash! and the zap! and the Death Star.

3) When he does have a good question, about a point of character or plot, which he actually does sometimes, I a) ask him, what do you think? Check out that parenting! b) say I don’t know, which leads to more persistent questioning, which then leads to c) telling him to we’ll have to wait ’til Daddy gets home and ask him. Or he can call his cousin Ms. Carbonite and ask her. I fob it off on them – and I’m off the hook. So I guess I don’t have to spend my evenings poring over C’s Star Wars Lego dictionary after all. KHAAANNN!!!

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