By: Ted Peterson
Carpe Diem is the best advice you can give anyone, and that goes double for parents. If we can just enjoy and appreciate what’s happening today, this minute, with ourselves and our kids, we’d all be so much happier. That’s admittedly easier said than done. It seems we parents are always opining that our kids are growing up too fast or not fast enough.
Examples are legion. Last weekend, I was talking with the father of one of Mikey’s best friends in preschool, and the subject of martial arts classes came up. I never took any as a kid, but look up any dojo oriented towards kids in your neighborhood and you’ll hear the same spiel about how they promote fitness, honor, respect, and discipline … as well as the ability to tear your opponent’s spine out from his throat if that’s got to be done.
We took Mikey to one class at a karate school in Calabasas and he didn’t like it. Really, the problem was the kids were doing all kinds of routines he had never been taught, and he was expected just to imitate them without any particular instruction. That’s just a lousy class, but we heard about other, better ones. Interestingly enough, we heard about them from friends of ours with girls. Actually, as soon as I thought about it, it was perfectly sensible. Girls have even more reason to know self-defense.
I was discussing all this with Mikey’s friend’s father, and it quickly came out that he’s a real true believer in everything about martial arts. We were in a noisy bowling alley at a kid’s birthday party, but you could almost hear a distant gong sound out across misty fields of bamboo as he spoke of growing up in the karate tradition. He concluded his reverie by saying that he wasn’t going to put his son into it until he was 8 or 9 years old. He had taught younger kids and became convinced that they aren’t developmentally ready yet, and more often than not would get burned out quickly if put in too soon.
That’s good enough for me. Karate is just something I think my kid should try out. It’s not something important to me. Like the movies, which he must learn to love like I do.
Last Sunday, we took Mikey to the movies for the first time. There are all sorts of first time moments this summer. Swimming and diving for the first time, first sleep-over, coloring between the lines, unfettered pony rides, getting up on a surfboard … Every week, there’s something new. In a week, we’ll be going to our first baseball game. That’s the sort of thing most dads dream of doing with their sons. But for me, it was the movies.
I can’t wait to share all my favorite movies with him, and watch and discuss new ones together. Like Mikey’s friend’s father, though, I’m conscious of not pushing him too early. Mikey didn’t watch anything at all until he was two years old, and then gradually, he’d watch a few minutes of a cartoon on television or the iPad. His attention span just wasn’t long enough, and we figured that was fine. We didn’t want to force him into couch potatohood until he was ready.
He went to a theater for the first time when he was two-and-a-half, to see “Cinderella” in the style of the British panto, which means a lot of songs, dances, and audience participation. We made it through to intermission, and cut our losses and left. It was a success, but Mikey was obviously still antsy. The first play Mikey sat all the way through was another children’s play we saw in London when he was almost three called “The Tiger Who Came To Tea.” The following Christmas, we went to another panto, and Mikey adored it and became obsessed with “Snow White.”
He hadn’t been particularly into Disney before then. Of course, he had seen all three “Toy Story” movies and “The Lion King,” because every kid has, but we decided that we needed to go back to the classics after the success of the play version of “Snow White.” We bought the DVD of Disney’s original first animated feature, the 1937 movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” I believe Mikey can quote it almost word for word now, and not only the movie, but the Little Golden Book of it which became his favorite bedtime story.
It was only natural we followed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” with the next movie from Disney, 1940’s “Pinocchio.” Talk about an alternative family. An elderly bachelor, Geppetto, with his kitten and his fish, is such a good man and brings so much joy with his woodworks that the Blue Fairy grants his wish that his new puppet is brought to life as his son. At that point, the puppet Pinocchio needs to prove himself “brave, truthful, and unselfish” in order to became a real boy, not a living puppet.
Mikey was musing on this the other day. “I think I’d like to be made of wood.”
That’s understandable. But while Mikey’s movie knowledge was growing, he had still not been to watch one in the theater. A lot of his friends have been, some back when they were babies. It’s common at Mommy & Me classes for there to be special screenings for babies and moms, where the lights aren’t brought down too dark. We knew that Mikey would sit still if the entertainment were solid, with lots of music and comedy, but I knew we’d have to explain that unlike in children’s plays and pantos, there was to be no interaction, no yelling and singing. You just sit and watch.
We decided that when Mikey finally saw a movie, it had to be a classic. We wanted something that generations of kids had already given their stamp of approval to. We imagined him talking to his friends years from now about their first movies, and we didn’t want him to have to confess to a modern, forgettable piece of dreck like “The Lorax,” “Mars Needs Moms,” “The Pirates!”, “Megamind,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” … So, we began combing the listings from revival theatres for new releases of old movies.
That’s when I heard that “Cinderella” was coming to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The El Capitan was built in 1926, a year before Graumann’s Chinese Theatre was constructed across the street. It has a deco “East Indian” décor and was originally a legitimate theater for plays. For that reason, the stage is deep enough that to this day before each performance, a classic Wurtlizer pipe organ rises up from a trapdoor in the center of the stage before the performance and descends as the curtains rise. In short, the El Capitan is one of the classic grand dame theatres of the age and a perfect location for Mikey’s first movie.
I haven’t seen “Cinderella” since I was a kid, and the only impression I had was, for better or for worse, it’s the girliest of the classic Disney movies. That’s fine, though. Better show it to Mikey now before he feels the pressure to only enjoy movies about cars, guns, and flatulence.
We took the Metro train down to Hollywood and Highland, which was another first for all of us. Like most kids his age, Mikey has a fascination with trains, so it was an easy decision to park for free in the Valley and spend $1.50 for the experience. We began bribing Mikey immediately, telling him that we would get him ice cream after the movie if he showed us what a big boy he is by staying in his chair and not making any noise during the movie.
We needn’t have bothered. As soon as the movie started, Mikey and all the other princes and princesses in the audience were transfixed. We laughed out loud at Cinderella’s mice friends Jaq and Gus, and held Mikey’s hand when Lady Tremaine’s evil cat came close to eating them. When Cinderella and the Prince danced at the ball, Mikey put his head on my shoulder and smiled. It wasn’t boring. It was wonderful. He was charmed.
Only after the movie was over, and we were having ice cream next door, did a frown cross Mikey’s face.
“Who did Cinderella marry, the Prince?” he asked.
“Oh,” he said, and took a thoughtful bite of his scoop of mint chocolate chip and shook his head. “Poor Snow White.”