Over the Garden Wall

One of the great joys, and small sorrows, of parenting is revealing your favorite things to your children to be embraced or reviled. There’s the magic of having them fall in love with something you fell in love with too. There’s nothing like snuggling with them on the couch watching your favorite movie for the first time, or catching your youngest staying up too late reading a book you also stayed up too late reading. Of course, they don’t always love what you loved. There you just hope that maybe someday they’ll have better taste.

But every once in a while, they introduce you to something that means a lot to THEM and the process works in reverse.

Grey bought a Google Home Mini with the Christmas money his uncle gave him. I’d been reluctant to add that technology to our household mix, but then he put together a six slide presentation on why he should be allowed to keep it. So it stayed. Grey and I have, uh, different taste in music. He really likes rap. So I was very surprised, listening to one of his playlists, to hear him singing joyfully along to a simple piano and vocal piece with the refrain “Potatoes and Molasses“. Very weird.

I asked him what it was from, and he was horrified to discover that I hadn’t seen his possibly favorite ever show, Over the Garden Wall. So over the course of the next few evenings, we watched it together as a family.

You know what? It was really fantastic. The kids kept warning me every episode that it was “dark”. It was serious, with real emotions and important themes and the opportunity for real loss. But it was also silly, surreal, sweet and unexpected. It had beautiful pieces of music interspersed. I think my favorite moment was the Beast’s Song, which I recognized from Engelbird Humperdink’s opera Hansel und Gretel. Do you have any idea how few subtle references there are in popular culture to obscure Germanic operas? And that one was so spot on, thematically, that it pointed to an incredible attention and care that the makers of the show lavished on it. I so deeply appreciate discovering my children love something that has depth, meaning and craft to it. This is literature in cartoon form – nodding backwards as it walks new ground forward.

I also really liked how the show modeled being brothers. (Mild spoilers.) The two key characters are step brothers. The little brother is annoying, for sure. The older brother is supercilious. But the love the two of them have for each other is plain in every scene and interaction. They’re never cruel to each other, and are very patient even when the sunny, goofy character of the youngest puts them in true peril. It’s a lovely model for my two, as they think about how they want to deal with each other.

It was a lovely thing – to have my kids pleased and proud to show me something that they loved. We got to be together. We got to point out to each other things we’d missed – those small details that can tie together a complicated story.

What’s something the next generation has introduced you to that you’ve discovered you really like afterwards? What are some of those moments of reversal for you?

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To be a lover of books

What gifts and passions do we hope our children have? If we were fairies at a christening, what would we bestow? I’m coming to understand that the answer isn’t the same for all parents, that the “of course” attributes that I value are not the same ones other parents do. That’s part of what makes us so wondrously different. For me, there are some key attributes. Kindness. Integrity. Courage. Joyfulness.

But then there are the other things, the ones that I secretly really hope for, but know it’s not fair to expect. Love of music. The willingness to sing in public. Caring about what’s fun more than what’s cool. A love of nature. A disdain for hurting others. Stopping to watch the ants. Memorizing poetry for fun. And, critically, a love of books.

For that last one, at least, my parenting hopes look like they’re on track.

Last night, Grey requested the opportunity to read Thane on of his bedtime books. He selected his favorite from his room: Luke Skywalker’s Amazing Story. Starting with the title page, he read through it. He read about droids, and the Force, and Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and “rebel leaders”. Of course, many of the hardest words he’d remembered from other circumstances. Let’s be honest, Obi-Wan Kenobi is a bit tough to guess phonetically. But he pronounced “Aunt Beru” differently than I did. He corrected himself when he misread a word. He paused and analyzed some of the hard words. He read with inflection and meaning, and understood the words as he read them. And I sat there, hiding tears, amazed to learn (spoiler alert) that Luke Skywalker’s father was Darth Vader! You could see the effort he put in — he actually got tired towards the end and started making mistakes out of the fatigue of his effort. But that by itself points to the reality. My son is reading! He’s a reader! He loves it! He does it out of joy! I can almost see the doors of a vast new world opening to him, whether he sees it or not.

Now let us speak of my youngest. About a year ago, Thane went into a book stage. It was one of his first words. He showed unusual focus for a small child on listening to the stories. But, probably not coincidentally, around the time he started getting the ear infections, his love was transferred over to cars. Vroom! Clearly we continued reading to him at night and sometimes in between, but it was no longer “his thing”. Then, a few weeks ago, it all changed. Thane is having a passionate love affair with books. Specifically, books that you are reading to him. And woe betide all moments not happily consumed in book-ishness. Today was a tight morning, schedule-wise, so we ONLY read him about 5 books before breakfast.

This would be a happier thing if Thane wasn’t quite SO upset between readings. He regularly throws epic, grand-mal tantrums with 15 minutes of loud, disconsolate weeping, arching of back, and pounding of hands because you have cruelly and viciously REFUSED to read him a fourth book! Look! He has it right here! “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus”! If he says “happy” enough times, surely you’ll understand and read it!?!? (NOTE: Books are identified by their loudest phrase. So “10 Minutes to Bedtime” is identified with “Bedtime”. In one of the Pigeon books, the Pigeon says he is “Happy, Happy HAAAPPPPPYYY!!!!” therefore all Pigeon books are “happy”. There’s a certain irony as he, tears streaming from his eyes, holds up the book and urgently says through his weeping “Happy! Happy!”) If you do not immediately oblige, the bitter crying starts. Last night when I was rapt listening to my eldest read a book, I was bouncing on my right leg a disconsolate Thane who kept bringing me different books in the fond hope that I’d finally read one to him, as he screamed and howled his disappointment.

This is, of course, a stage. You can’t multi-task and read “How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Dinner”. I’m pretty sure that’s the point. Thane has figured out how to get whole and undivided attention from the people he loves: grab a book and plop your little diapered butt in their laps. Works every time. And of course, he really does love the books. Grey loved the alphabet at that age. He actually knew it all by 18 months. Thane? He loves the reading, specifically the one-on-one time with his parents. I don’t begrudge him, even as much as sometimes it would be nice to have him sated by, oh, three or four books.

One of the memorable moments of my shared childhood experience was a car trip where my parents and siblings and I talked about all the books that the younger of us had not read and the jealousy of the elders that they would be so fortunate as to experience them for the first time. My sons’ feet are on that road. Oh, what stories await!