Monday, November 5, 2007

So, I Made Her Cry On Purpose

My children don't get much screen time. I've already hinted at that a little here and there in previous posts. When they do watch something on the television it's always from a DVD. Every once in a blue moon they watch a live football game, but the TV gets turned off during commercials. You never know what's going to pop up on that screen. I've seen gorey previews for some of those forensic-type shows in the middle of the day. Um, excuse me, but my five year old is not accustomed to seeing bloody crime victims, thank you. So, commercials off.

One of the (potential) downsides of limiting television viewing is that my children seem hyper-sensitive compared to their more media-savvy peers. Two years ago we were visiting friends in Virginia. Their oldest daughter, with good intentions, popped Nemo in the DVD player while I was elsewhere. You know it doesn't get too far into the movie before Nemo's mom and all her little babies (minus one) get swallowed whole and Nemo's dad is in a fit of hysteria. My children know about the food chain. They know big fish eat little fish. However, they had never before seen a fish with human thoughts and emotions lose his beloved wife and children to violent deaths. My kids were screaming their heads off. At Nemo.

Hmmm. This might be a problem.

Husband and I saw the trend. The girls, then ages 4.5 and 3, didn't want anything to do with tension in their storybooks, either. They wanted me to skip whole sections of The Little House in the Big Woods (Grandpa and the Panther). Of course, they were still awfully young. We did realize, though, that we didn't want them to get around to school age and still be avoiding anything uncomfortable in the world. What were we communicating to our children? Were we attempting to create a childhood apart from The Fall? When were we going to break it to them? The world is not a cozy, rosy place. Gradually, we began adding books with more tension, more suspense, and yes, even frightening episodes. We've done this on an individual basis. Shug is still rather sensitive to "scary" things like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, while SweetP is completely entranced by the more intense fairy tales right now. Maybe it's just that she's a little older. Not sure. But, they have both come a long way. Oh, and we watched Mary Poppins with them until they were okay with flying people and children lost in alleyways ;)

Just reading through the Bible has helped a bit, too. The Old Testament can be very interesting, to say the least, to read to the younger set. People get run through, eaten by dogs, decapitated, you name it. I admit, old habits die hard for us. We still avoid Jael and Jezebel, edit some storybooks and leave out passages when Punkin is around. She can't handle as much as her older sisters can. I'm not in the business of giving people nightmares. She can certainly handle a great deal more than the older two could at her age. She might even be able to handle Nemo ;) Maybe just because we stopped trying to create that perfect little dream world. Or, maybe because Shug is regularly launching assaults on imaginary Indians in the family room. Punkin has a much different childhood than her sisters had ;) Admittedly, there are still books that I reserve for when they are just a little older. Did you know people get quartered and sewn back together again in the real Aladdin? Yeesh! I do want to stretch them a little at a time, though. We'll get to it. Baby steps.

Besides reading the Bible and fairy tales, we've also added in missionary biographies. We hope to read about a different missionary each term. The lives of these missionaries are often heart-breaking. Would I really want to shelter the children from that kind of sadness, though? Not for all the world. These are, by God's grace, the best of all those who will become their personal heroes. These are stories I want them to know, to remember, to feel. We are reading about David Livingstone this term, and Shug has been listening in since Chapter 2. (I decided the first chapter was okay for SweetP, but a bit much for her younger sister - lion's teeth ripping flesh and other graphic language). Yesterday, we read of young David leaving home, likely to never see his ailing father again.

"It was a sad parting in Glasgow for David and his father. Mr. Livingstone's health was failing, and David was on his way to the white man's grave. Neither of them expected to see each other again, and David stood on the aft deck for a long time watching his father disappear from view as the boat slipped down the Broomielaw and out to see."

I looked down at sweet little Shug.I knew what to expect. I had a little catch in my voice as I read. She looked up at me, holding back the tears in her eyes. She did not cry, but she was having to fight it. I gave her a gentle squeeze and smiled at her. "It's seems hard, doesn't it? Leaving his father when he knew his father might die soon?," I asked slowly. She nodded silently. "Missionaries have to leave quite a lot behind when they go to the mission field," I continued, "but, for those that go, it's always worth it, isn't it?" Another silent nod, and she wiped her eyes dry.

That's good, Shug. That's good.