When we took L. out for his birthday dinner earlier this month the conversation turned, as it always does these days, to his latest obsession: Star Wars. He had just watched Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones (when did Star Wars get so complicated? It has taken me forever to get my mind around the fact that there are no longer just three movies) rented as a birthday treat, and his head was still spinning from the film.
I have long gotten over the fact that my innocent, round-cheeked, sensitive first-born has developed into a leggy, spectacled NINE year old with an intense fascination in weaponry, war, light sabers, and various and sundry missiles and armaments. But I was not prepared for him to have taken a sudden interest in the romance side of the story.
"There was a lot of smooching," he announced, over his vegetable lo mein.
And a lot of scenes like this one:
When Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala gaze lovingly into each other's eyes, through some type of misty backdrop.
I think that film might indeed have been the first time L. has ever seen suggested romance--and smooching; at least the kind of smooching that happens in films, and not around our house. For while Scott and I don't hesitate to show our love for each other in front of the kids, we certainly don't go around locking lips in a passionate embrace, while the mist rolls in, and the kids are underfoot. I was just thinking this over when L. pointed the exact same thing out to us:
"Hey, Mama and Papa? How come you guys aren't like that?"
"Like what?" I asked, uncomfortably.
"Like Anakin and Padmé Amidala. How come YOU never smooch like that?"
There are many different answers to this touchy question, of course, and we muddled through them. Of course real life isn't like the movies, we explained, and Anakin and Padmé are young characters in a film, while his parents are, well, not so young anymore and definitely not in a George Lucas film; still I wondered what his mind was thinking, as he turned over this new insight into human relationships--this now opened door into this other world. I wondered what conclusions he would reach, after weighing his parents' love for each other against the construct the movie provided.
I also thought about the future, and conversations we'll no doubt have one day (hopefully not soon--please oh please not soon) about what's real and not real in love and life. It's hard enough for typical kids to grow up in the social world today--to negotiate through the flimsy and tempting paradigms of love and romance that are offered up by the movie industry and advertising world--but what about someone like L.? I began to worry right then and there about the future; about what love might come to mean for L., about whether it might remain something intangible and ever-cryptic and tantalizing--like a cup of water left just out of reach. I began to worry about hormones and the birds and the bees and--gasp!--middle school.
But the conversation abruptly switched, thank goodness, and L. lost interest in that angle. He also seems to have forgotten the smooching and the love and the misty backdrops; all that remains buried for now, under the more grandiose, immediate and glamorous battles scenes, and the struggles between good and evil that are the stuff of Star Wars. That night I checked on him before I headed to bed. I found him fast asleep in his room, piles of Star Wars guides and Overton's catalogs heaped around him like blankets; he was just a little boy again--for now--a boy dreaming of big things, in an increasingly complicated world, lit larger than life.