When one’s children are young, one ends up pandering to their interests. One does a lot of things – playing with toys, trips to the park, playdates – that they enjoy and that you take varying degrees of pleasure in because of the pleasure they get out of it, but it may not really be your thing. Disneyland yes; trips to the doggie patch to accost unsuspecting dog owners for permission to pet their pet, maybe; visits to the indoor playroom not so much.
As they turn five, however, one gets to share genuine interests. For example, Harry Potter. I had started reading the books to Nene – Mimi couldn’t focus as much without the pictures – and I allowed them to watch the first movie. Even Chamber of Secrets we decided was too scary because of the basilisk parts. But recently, I found them watching clips on YouTube and they kept pushing me to watch the movies, and I let them on the condition that they fastforward any part they find too scary.
The result is that we can have endless conversations about Harry Potter mythology. I am a Potterhead so this comes easy. I explain parts to them that they don’t understand, but I also use it to reinforce values that I think are important. For example, “Did you notice what Lupin’s friends did when they realised he was a werewolf? They didn’t abandon him.” When I read the Harry Potter series, it struck me that the books encompassed my personal morality in a way that no religious text had. It encompassed the Christian ethic but in some ways surpassed it by complicating it, or at least updating it. It provided a backstory for evil, for example. And I find indeed the books helping me parent as I thought they might; I hope this continues.
I am also reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories to Nathan, another book with a number of powerful messages – about the value of storytelling, about intellectual fascism. Mimi went through a phase where she was obsessed with “the real” and non-fiction because “fiction isn’t real” even though she actually enjoys fiction more than non-fiction. The tyranny of scienticism came home to roost a little to early in the distinction between fiction and non-fiction at school. I tried to explain to her that fiction is important too, but she wasn’t buying it. Maybe she needs a dose of Haroun too.
Nene is one of those who genuinely enjoys non-fiction. One of his bedtime reading choices was a book about minerals, which had us going through the entire periodic table. I find myself learning things I never knew, and being refascinated by science (well, I was independently on a quantum physics binge which this ties into so it worked out well). And the periodic table is rather pretty. But I’m glad we’re back to
Nene is also into Monopoly and we have regular sessions on weekends. He is more into it when he wins though. And he and I learnt to play chess at the same time, and parry with each other. Though I end up beating him, and so he’s not that into it.
Mimi is into craft, which I don’t mind, but I’m not crazy about. I would like it better if we could colour together – now that she can finally stay in the lines – but her preferred colouring mode is both of us doing the same picture, which is not mine.
In sports, Nene is now into Formula 1, and watches the races with his dad. Both the kids were into gymnastics and ice-skating and watch these with me. In real life, Nene is a sporty kid, who basically masters sporting stuff easily. Mimi not so much, though I have noticed recently that she likes to dance.
There are those that say we should cherish every moment with our kids. I’m not a believer in that. I did not cherish the exhaustion of parenting a newborn, breastfeeding, waking up every two hours at night, changing diapers. I loved my kids and I did what it took, but I did not enjoy every minute and I’m not going to pretend I did. But as the kids grew into toddlers and especially now, the quality of my enjoyment of time with them has changed, sometimes we hang out as peers.