I was on my own with the boys for a good proportion over the weekend and am happy to say that we made it through and even managed a few play dates with friends. I also decided in advance to have at least one scheduled ‘outing’ and, in the absence of anything really Christmassy going on I thought it might be fun to book us in for the latest Disney/Pixar offering at the cinema.
What I didn’t realise until we were sat in our seats chomping away on our popcorn was that The Good Dinosaur has a PG rating. EJ is only three. I was concerned, and with good reason.
The first thing that you see is an animated short which tells the story of a little Hindu boy who has a flight of fantasy which involves thwarting a really, really scary monster that rises from the extinguished flame his father lights as part of a daily ritual of worship.
EJ immediately cried out in fear and I knew it was going to be a very long 90 minutes.
The actual film tells the story of Arlo, a fearful young dinosaur who loses a parent early on (see: all of Disney’s back catalogue) and goes on to be swept away in a flash flood, befriended by a little human boy who is more like a wild (but loyal) dog and has to somehow find his way back through the most treacherous wilderness imaginable to make it back to his family.
Of course the story provides some really powerful messages about overcoming your fears, being brave, being there for your friends even in the face of unbelievably stacked odds and essentially growing up and earning your stripes, but oh my word, seeing this film through the eyes of a three year old was tough!
Imagine Ice Age but with the majority of the funny bits taken out. Poor little Arlo seems to spend three quarters of the film trying and failing and getting battered down by all the external forces imaginable.
I found myself praying that the film makers would just give us a bit of light relief but by the time they are blowing down holes and gophers are shooting up into the air EJ was beyond consolable and begging me to take him home.
With an engrossed six year old and over £30 shelled out, that wasn’t going to happen so EJ had to make do with my arm round his shoulders and plenty of reassurances that everything was going to work out OK. Needless to say it does, but even I was crying by that point.
Later on my parenting skills were tested again when JJ asked another difficult question – possibly brought on by the fact that there are clearly defined ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters in the film. At bedtime he turned to me and said “mummy are there real baddies in the world?’ and to simplify I told him there were – I’m not going to sugar-coat the fact that the world isn’t all sweetness and light. He then asked if any of the baddies are children – and thinking of bullies etc. I told him yes, children can be baddies. That made me feel uncomfortable – children are a product of the adults who mould them whether that be through deliberate acts or neglect – it’s not as black and white as my answers implied but how do you explain this to someone so young?
This is the second time in the last few days that I have felt out of my depth with his ever probing questions about the nature of the world. On Thursday evening a Christmas float drove slowly round our town and ‘Santa’ and his helpers came door to door to collect money for charity.
I gave JJ a pound to hand over and then found myself trying to explain the concept of charity. I used the example of homelessness – it was a rainy night and I asked him to imagine having to sleep out on the streets. He looked really shocked by this and asked what happens if children don’t have a home and I assured him that children get looked after by the state in designated homes. He was a bit tearful by this point and wanted me to assure him that these homes are good places – at which point I found myself wishing so badly that I could tell him that they are filled with love, warmth, kindness and happiness, but unfortunately I know better than to lie about this so the best I could do was change the subject.
At a time when we are all trying to make the world seem magical for our little ones and fill the dark spaces with light it is pretty sobering to be set the task of minimising the real sadness, suffering, loss, and insecurity which threaten to engulf those less fortunate than ourselves.
Is ignorance bliss at the age of six or should we be giving straight answers to straight questions? Answers on a postcard…