I was hanging around on Twitter (is there a better term for this? Reading twitter? Reading tweets? Wasting time?). Anyway, I found, retweeted by @leverus, a strangely beautiful—and creepy—Web comic by Emily Carroll (is that enough links in one sentence for you?). I read it and it sort of amazed and shocked me, and then all memory of it went and hid somewhere in the back of my mind and I went about my business.
Until this weekend.
This weekend we had temporary ownership of my office's iPad, to see how it worked, what was it good for, that sort of thing. Mostly people in my particular house hated it—no flash for kids's computer games or math sites, a virtual keyboard that was tricky. All in all, a machine only of consumption—neither creating nor participating. But.
I showed Diana the comic.
I'm not even sure why I did, what it was that reminded me. She's been reading a lot of scary books lately, things like Cirque du Freak and Lois Duncan and various dragons and vampires and—you know, scary stuff. But she hasn't seemed scared by it. She'd never be able to watch a movie with this stuff in it, I don't think, but reading it? That's something else entirely. And at this point all that was left in my memory was the smell of lilacs and the dark background and a Victorian sense of menace, something almost fairy-tale-like. So I took iPad (it's one of the coolest things that even something as seemingly innocuous consumer-oriented as this can be a conduit to another world) and said, "Hey wait, I just remembered there was this cool thing I meant to show you." And I found the comic.
She started reading it, and halfway in she said "This is scary." Partly just describing, partly that automatic monitoring thing we all do to keep ourselves out of trouble. You know, This hurts, I'm hot, I'm hungry. But all of a sudden I thought, wait, what am I doing?
"You can stop," I said.
"It's just scary," she said. "Pretty scary."
"Stop! Don't keep reading!"
"But I want to keep reading. It's just scary."
And then she was done with it. And it was the strangest feeling. She really liked it, she did. It caught at her imagination in a way that something less accomplished couldn't have: there were some Face All Red paper doll games played subsequently. But I had a sort of awful feeling, the sense that I had introduced some sort of monster into her world.
It's not that her world isn't already full of monsters. I mean, there's this, there's middle school for heaven's sake, which is (as I remember it, anyway) a thoroughly terrifying place. But it seems different, somehow, to introduce something truly scary to her, something that is maybe for adults (is it?), something that maybe she wasn't entirely ready for. And yes, I sort of feel "Well it's OK, at least it was something good, right?" But I feel, almost as much, "Why did I do that? That was really scary. Why did I introduce yet another serpent into a garden that is already fairly crawling (so to speak) with serpents? Why did I add another scary thing?"
Sometimes I have no idea how to navigate art, life, or children, and when the three of them intersect—well, it's the trickiest of all.
One thought on “Looking for Trouble”
With my children so much younger, I can only hazard a guess. But even now, when previously I avoided or eliminated anything remotely scary, I now find myself seeking out material that’s a little “edgy”* for my 3.75-year-old. Through accidental encounters I’ve realized that kind of material is sometimes the most compelling. The things that walk the line between scary and exciting are often returned to over and over again, I think because they allow some working out of emotions that otherwise remain shapeless but still exist.
So I’m thinking maybe that’s why you did it. Sometimes you recognize something is scary in a way that your kid will enjoy or find compelling, as opposed to just adding to those serpents. It’s a fine line. But one of the jobs of parenting seems to be finding a way to introduce the difficult or scary parts in life in a manageable fashion, and maybe this was one way.
*I mean, obviously “edgy” for his age is still very gentle. I’m not reading him Stephen King, or anything.
Interesting to hear your thoughts on the iPad! I had some similar feelings but couldn’t articulate them. I do still kind of want one to do my crosswords on, though!