The other day, the little Goofs and I sat down and watched the classic coming of age movie, Stand By Me. It kind of blew their minds. Kids that were GoofBoy’s age were smoking, drinking beer, and had obtained a gun. They were wandering off across the countryside without any adult supervision and the object of their quest was to see a dead body. Plus the bullies were terrifying. They threatened to burn a kid’s eye with a cigarette, played mailbox baseball, and put homemade tattoos on each other.
GoofGirl was horrified at pretty much everything she saw:
All they are going to eat are sandwiches and Coke, that’s not healthy?
Don’t they know smoking is bad for them?
Why is that guy going to hurt them, why is he like that?
Why do they keep talking about their fathers?
GoofBoy was struck by the freedom these boys had to go off, on an overnight, with no supervision. But both kids were shocked by the casual meanness of others in the movie. Their school is a bully-free zone (they all are now) and actual physical violence or even threats of it are extremely rare. Worse then the bullies, in the movie the adults are at best ambivalent about and often perpetrators of cruelty. One character had had his ear burned when his father held it against a stove while another father simply didn’t pay attention to his son. When a kid steals money and attempts to return it the teacher pockets it and buys herself something, and the boy is labeled a thief for life.
The little Goofs live in a wonderful world full of kind, caring adults who carefully monitor the interactions of the kids. This isn’t to say that there aren’t difficulties and tensions, but overall the relationships between the kids are congenial. The little Goofs ask me about being bullied (and I was) and they are fascinated by this exotic experience. They always ask me about “the bad kids” of my youth, like the fifth grader who got up on the roof of the school (this was the epitome of roguery to a second grader) or the kids who went into the woods to start fires. At one point I mentioned the bad kids who would poop in the sink in the school lavatory. GoofBoy said, “Oh yeah, some kids pooped in the urinals, but what can you expect, I mean they were only seven they probably thought they were special little toilets.”
I worry about this a little. Bullies exist in the world, people can be vicious or, at the very least, not kind. Maybe the little Goofs won’t be threatened physically, but there will be workplace scoundrels and they will need to know how to stand up for themselves. I can’t say I benefited from being pushed around as a kid, but maybe it is like a virus where one needs an early exposure to develop a life-long resistance. I worry about over-protecting the little Goofs, because they do need to become independent and capable of facing life’s challenges (otherwise they might not move out of my house). A friend is experimenting with wrapping her kids in bubble-wrap (go to the link, there a pictures!) and of course some is needed – but have we gone too far and made the wrapping too thick?
I put the question to GoofBoy, would he want to live with that freedom but also the danger. He did want the freedom, but he didn't want the danger. I guess this will have to sort itself out.
But I was really struck by GoofGirl’s question: Why are they always talking about their fathers?
I started to tell her about Jung and the quest for meaning, but the little Goofs just roll their eyes at me when I start talking like that. I told her how the characters were boys growing up and they wanted to know what it would mean to be grown men. They wished their fathers would show them and help them and tell them they were doing well. But their dads weren't very good. The character who had his ear burned by his dad told everyone, "My Dad was at Normandy!"
He loved the man who had hurt him so much. The main character had a father uninterested in his son and particularly his son's talent for storytelling. These men were mysteries to their sons and these boys needed a sense of what they were doing.
On this one, I can say with absolute the kids are alright. They don't get the time they want from me (because on this children are fundamentally unappeasable in terms of attention) but they do get a lot of it and they are not wanting for my love - nor are any of the kids I know. The quest for father may be a universal archetype - but life is hard enough, let Dads be a beacon rather then a frightening chasm.