There was a time, as recently as 2 months ago, when summer fun here meant shooting each other with water guns, and for my son Snags the water guns were simply a toy, a cool way to get each other wet. He was never one of those children to bite his toast into the shape of a gun or cock his fingers into one while shouting “Bang! Bang!” He had a cowboy hat and a sheriff’s badge but he rarely played with them. When he did, he never bothered about a gun. And unlike so many of his preschool friends, he wasn’t into acting out Power Rangers on the playground and didn’t watch them on T.V. He didn’t really understand fighting, didn’t understand much about good versus evil. Because at the age of five there just wasn’t that much evil to have to understand; the world was basically good. But above all, he certainly didn’t know about igniters or bombs, explosions or lasers.
In fact, until just recently my son was into Disney movies, particularly animated ones where there was a sleeping princess somewhere needing to be saved and he could pretend he was the prince responsible for the saving.
I understood him then. I understood that language. I am a girl, after all. I know about princesses and frilly dresses and pretty shoes and sparkling jewelry and prince charming and all that. And while I may not be a princess, I can certainly play one on TV. You know, like if you video tape me pretending to be a princess while playing with my son who has his favorite blanket safety pinned to his shoulders so it resembles a prince’s cape trailing behind him.
Now, I admit, I like these games best when I can be Sleeping Beauty after touching the spinning wheel or Snow White after biting the poison apple so I can just lie on the sofa and hope that maybe Snags will get bored after a time and start watching something on Nick Jr. Because maybe then I can get a nap. But it rarely works out that way. Often I’m Belle and he’s the Beast, stomping through our castle and leaving messes in his wake, or worse, he’s Gaston, ripping the book I’m trying to read right out of my hand, knocking it into a puddle, and demanding that I pay attention only to him.
These games I knew. I understood my role. I could play them. And later, after we’d played, I could follow his never ending commentary about them and participate in conversations with Snags who, firmly ensconced in his booster seat in the back of the car, would question me as I drove him to preschool:
“Are we in the same forest as yesterday?” he’d inquire. “Because I don’t remember those trees being there yesterday. I think this forest is growing!” he’d proclaim.
“Oh no!” I’d retort. “We might have trouble finding the castle. I hope we don’t run into that old hag with the apples again.”
And because I could, and because even if I didn’t he would continue the game without me, I’d play along for the duration of our little trip.
But now… well, now it seems as if this magical innocence of the very young, the world of fairytale princes and happy endings, is slipping away. My prince charming has been lured away from me. Another woman has captured his attention and his heart and helped to fill his mind with bigger, more sinister things like lasers guns and explosions and violence and heavy breathing. The kind of heavy breathing that announces “Luke! I am your father!” And the woman who has done all of this is Princess Leia. To my chagrin, but to my husband’s utter delight, my five year old has discovered Star Wars. I neither understand nor speak the language, Star Wars. This is not my native tongue.
It started out simply enough when Snags came upon my husband playing the Lego Star Wars game on his Xbox. He sat down to join him and before long, the game was second nature to him. Somewhere along the way Snags found the original Star Wars movie in our video collection and one Friday night he and his father sat down to watch it.
It might have ended there. We might have returned to a world of princesses and castles and magical fairies but we didn’t. We had to attend a wedding and while my husband and I were busy eating and dancing and looking for my grandmother’s hearing aid, my son was being entertained by his Uncle Darth Mikey. Darth Mikey also likes Star Wars, and he was content to watch the movie with Snags again and again before taking him to a nearby field and teaching him all about model rocketry, something Darth Mikey has held an interest in since he was a mere child himself.
So when we went to retrieve Snags and relieve Uncle Darth Mikey on that fateful evening, the first thing Snags did when he saw us was to scream in the excited voice of Luke Skywalker, “GUESS WHAT!? WE WATCHED STAR WARS AGAIN AND WE LAUNCHED ROCKETS AND UNCLE MIKEY GAVE ME MY OWN ROCKET AND WE JUST NEED TO GET SOME MORE ROCKET ENGINES AND IGNITERS AND THEN BOOM! THE ROCKET WILL EXPLODE UP INTO THE AIR…”
And that’s how quickly Snag’s innocence began slipping away. He has been officially indoctrinated into the more violent world of boy things.
Now he prefers to play Star Wars in the back yard using sticks for light sabers shooting out deadly laser beams. The water guns are stand-ins for whatever kind of guns they use in the movie. Soccer balls represent bombs that some character named Greedo can throw. When I’m enlisted in the game, I’m assigned to play the part of Princess Leia, although I don’t care for her hairstyle or the jobs I’m given – mostly pulling invisible levers to open invisible doors while the boys do all the fighting, occasionally hitting me with their light sabers.
I’ve found, in all of this, one small ray of hope left as far as innocence is concerned. I’m clinging to it tightly, but I fear it’s a silken thread that will be easily broken. Right now you see, my son refers to Darth Vader as “Dark Vater” and as we drive toward preschool he explains to me how Dark Vater kills people with his “life saver.” I’m not eager to correct him. These small inaccuracies show me that regardless of how much he talks of lasers and ignitors, bombs, “life savers” and recovery wadding, there is still some five year old left inside him. Still a tiny bit of innocence that has yet to slip away.