So we’re watching TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
Despite my love of the movie, I am not giving it my full attention. I’m also watching my daughter out of the corner of my eye.
The reason is that I want her to adore this movie as much as I do. But I’m thinking she might not. It’s very different from the movies she normally likes to watch.
For one thing, it’s in black and white. And the story begins slowly; no Hollywood sis-boom-ba (she’s laughing as she reads this. Who, other than old people, say sis-boom-ba? What does it even mean?). Then, the story meanders, doesn’t go off course but moves at a leisurely, skip through the meadow and pick some flowers, pace. And the way they talk does not resemble what my daughter is used to hearing in movies or in the real world. For example, the children address the adults with respect. With Sir. With Ma’am. With full sentences.
Yet I am the only one not giving the film my undivided attention. Her cell phone buzzes and I’m the one who glances over at it. She doesn’t even flinch.
Then Gregory Peck appears on screen. I let out a quiet but shrieky girl “oh my.” Who cares about those ridiculous glasses? On him, they look dreamy. On him, anything looks dreamy. Now my daughter rolls her eyes. Of course that has less to do with the movie than it has to do with me.
Focus, Sara. Remember this is one of your favorite movies of all time. If you put too much energy wondering what she thinks, you are going to miss out.
Okay. Daughter’s impressions be damned. I’m going to sit back and relax. Let myself be drawn into the world of Scout and Jem and Dill and Atticus.
I still can’t help but make comments to make sure my daughter is picking up on all the things that make this one of the only films I like almost as much as the book. For me, it would be impossible not to say something when the kids first meet Dill. I mean look at that face. The way that boy takes already exaggerated features and twists them just so to reveal his mischievous nature. Brilliant. But he isn’t the only amazing kid actor here. I believe Scout and Jem from the moment I meet them. High praise goes to the casting agency.( I just had a disturbing thought: I hope none of these actors suffered the fate of many child stars; if one of them ended up like Buffy from FAMILY AFFAIR, I’m not sure I could handle it. I’m still having a hard time getting over Buffy.)
It is during the scene where Scout climbs inside the tire and Jem pushes the tire so it rolls across the lawn that my daughter speaks up. She is in awe of the way they entertain themselves. It looks like so much fun. She even says she wished people were more like that now.
I hope I didn’t shout that out loud. Who doesn’t want their child to recognize the joy in simple things. In low technology experiences. I considered hitting the pause button to have a “teaching moment” but I always cringe when my husband does that. Later I tell him to let them just enjoy. Everything doesn’t have to be directed education.
We continue to watch. I make commentary here and there but I control my urge to make sure she sees this or that. She seems to be enjoying it all on her own. And then it’s over. “That was great, Mom.” I hold back my sigh of relief.
Later, I think about how different my childhood was from that of my children. On the weekends, I’d go out into the neighborhood in the mornings and not come back except to eat until it got dark out. Not every day but most of the time. My kids never did that. They sometimes played with neighborhood kids but the parents were always nearby, keeping an eye on them. I am sure that my mother (who was not a neglectful parent) was not keeping tabs on me when I was young and running around with the neighborhood kids. It was just what we did.
There are so many reasons why things have changed. Fear is behind most of it. There are predators out there. Evil lurks around the corner. This generation of parents’ fears are much more sinister than my parents’ generations fear that we might take a piece of candy from a stranger and it would be laced with LSD (Ahh, the seventies.) We also feel like our kids need to do certain things so that they can compete in the world. And that leads to overscheduling them when they are still so young. And when they get a little older, they depend on defined activities to keep them busy. Team sports. Voice lessons. Summer at Harvard. And when they aren’t involved in these activities, we worry that they’re going to get into trouble. Which they might. That’s what teenagers do.
At times, I feel very frustrated by the way we live our lives. I would like for us to slow down. To take our days moment by moment. To stop worrying so much about the future. About what will happen to our children. But I also am frustrated by comments about how the old days were so much better for children. Yes, they had more free time to explore and use their imaginations. But they also lived in a world where people like Tom Robinson didn’t have a chance at being found innocent even though every fact pointed to his innocence. All because of the color of his skin.
What is this fear we have of other people? This fear is what’s behind our prejudices and this fear is behind our helicopter parenting. I don’t have any answers. Right this minute, I don’t even have any suggestions for what can be done to break down the barriers between people. Maybe some of you do. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
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