Jun 30, 2015

"Yer a wizard, Harry!"

When I found my 8 year old reading 'The Half-blood Prince' over my shoulder one night, my instinct was to immediately slam it shut. In the angst ridden tale of Harry Potters life, this book explores a particularly troubling part where the villain is demystified, humanized. Oyon has demonstrated an ability to handle ambiguity but understanding the genesis of Evil is a tall order.

As I wrangled with weighty judgments, a soft chuckle interrupted my thoughts. I froze so as to not disrupt him and snuck a peak at the lines his eyes were tracking. It was the part about celebrity-loving, superficial, farcical Professor Slughorn. I let him finish the page and asked if he enjoyed it.

He had.

Cloud gazing, not deep-thinking

That night I checked out a library copy of the first Harry Potter book ('The sorcerers stone') on my tablet and read him the opening chapter at bedtime. He took over a few pages in and we read to each other in turn, pausing often to exclaim, comment and laugh. 9 pm came and went with my bleary-eyed boy still begging for more. I emphasized with the draw of this brilliantly told saga and thrilled in his captivation. In a last ditch effort to be a responsible parent (instead of a JK Rowling fangirl), I turned on the audio version of the book for him. He could now shut his tired eyes and drift off to sleep still lost in his newly discovered world.

The next few days were like watching a long forgotten movie as I watched the book swallow him whole. After school, he'd barely have dropped his school bag before bee-lining for the tablet. He walked around (when he had to) holding it up to his nose, eyes roving furiously over the pages, bumping into furniture, spilling juice, kicking over things and causing a wider variety of mayhem than usual.

Library day arrived at school.

Instead of the usual fare of Captain Underpants and hardcover non-fiction tomes on his interest of the moment, he came back with an over-thumbed,  ravaged softcover copy of 'The sorcerers stone'. He took to carrying it to school and eventually stored it in his desk so he could have the story at home (on my tablet) as well as in school.

I mindfully (but not without compunctions) put a pin in my reservations about his readiness for the themes in this book, reasoning that the first few were pretty innocuous. A disturbing darkness really only started descending in the 3rd book. His speed-reading dissuaded much reading out loud (neither of us had the vocal stamina) but we had short chats about what each day had revealed to him. I was worried about him navigating the pain that I knew to lie between the covers on his own.

About a week into this mania we watched the 6th and last movie, partly to demystify the end and counter anxiety. It led to this startling conversation  as he quizzed me about the villain, Voldemort.. After offering up a brief sketch of  his background, I commented on how amazing it was that with such  similar backgrounds, Voldemort and Harry turned out so very different from each other. Most of the following conversation is verbatim (I wrote it up right away):

"It's really not amazing." he commented casually.
"But they had suffered equally." I countered.
"No way! Harry had a horrible-r life."
"What? No! At least he lived with his aunt's family...Voldemort was in a cold, lonely orphanage!"
I couldn't believe my son had such little insight...was he even reading this book?!
"But that IS worse! His family hated him and treated him like garbage. Its better to be alone than that!" he retorted, tossing my incredulity right back to me.
"Oh. I never thought about it that way." I was chastened but added, "but shouldn't that have made Harry even angrier when he got older?"
"Not really." he explained in a patient voice, "When bad stuff happens first you get mad then you get used to it. Harry had SO much sad happen that he got used to it and stopped being mad. Voldemort didn't have such a bad time so he got stuck on being mad and didn't think hurting others was a big deal. See?"

I really didn't.

He made a last desultory attempt at explaining, all the while unpacking his LEGO tub...he was obviously done with  this rather obvious conversation.

"If you know how awful something is, WHY would you want anyone else to feel like that? If you're busy being mad and don't think it's a big deal then you don't even care. Go on! Go crazy! " he said, experimentally jamming  an axle LEGO piece on a hinge brick and examining the result for mechanical/building potential.

I took my dismissal with what grace I could muster and moved away to chew on this. I've read this series numerous times, accepting unquestioningly the explanation offered by the author (in a story-line farther on in the series), that the ability to love is what distinguished  Harry from Voldemort. Yet it seemed to me that Oyon had just argued that it was Harry's ability to feel pain, not love, that changed his life and that of many others. He's onto something too: studies have shown that altruism and giving is highest in demographics where people have limited means, whereas those who can afford to give often turn away. I myself have been driven by a desire to instill empathy in my child but didn't expect it to unfold on this scale. 

Coincidentally, I was reading 'The order of Phoenix' at the time and stumbled across these lines that I'd barely registered before: "There is no shame in what you are feeling, Harry", said Dumbledore's voice. "On the contrary...the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength."

Most days, I cannot agree with this sage wizard.

My empathy meter is terribly mis-calibrated: I often find myself carrying leaden chunks of other peoples' grief inside that're difficult to dislodge, since they are not truly mine. Now here's my little boy, hinting that's its a good thing after all.  I know I've tried to fit him with these very lenses to see the world but I've always worried that he'd be plagued by them the way I have. I've mounted counter measures accordingly: we helped spread some good, Iv'e done 'News graphs' to help him parse positive thoughts from gloom, I've leveled with him about human tragedies to focus on good outcomes. Many ways to balance some of the despair worming into our collective consciousnesses. Yet my disquiet grew, rather than shrank.

Until now.

Oyon is showing a greatly diminished interest in the Harry Potter books, though he's chugged onto book three now. I'm not pushing him or even sharing my enthusiasm. Partly to not rob him of his joy...because he's teetering on the edge of the phase where a parents recommendation is likely to be a deterrent.

But also because it's obvious to me that Oyon may be more ready for the Harry Potter themes than I am for his readiness.

I think he's going to be alright.

Oyonism (8+)
At bed-time, when all my friendly warnings to put-down-the-Harry-Potter-book have failed, I decide to play the 'if you can't beat them' game.....
Me (snatching the book out of his hands): Accio book!
Oyon (almost instantly snatching it back): Expelliarmus!
Me (grim faced): You leave me no choice...Wingardium Leviosa!
The pillow I launch at him knocks him off the bed and onto the floor but he springs up shooting made up spells from an imaginary wand and throwing dirty clothes and blankets at me
O: Give-back-bookus! Stop-it-us
Me (in a muffled voice, buried under linen): No magic allowed outside Hogwarts!!

When two Harry Potter fans meet, there's magic in the air.