Monday, September 24, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to Harry Potter

When I encountered Harry Potter--I had not planned to read those books; they sounded like fluff--my firstborn, not quite two, made it easy for me to lose myself in the plot:  we had our own little garden of Eden, a sandbox in a Bavarian garden enclosed on three sides by tall hedges and on one by a fence facing a barnyard--German langshan hens, with their red beaks and crowns and their long legs, were pecking at corns and a baby pig snuffled around.  I glanced up at my little one from time to time, but since you couldn't even hear cars, and since only one other child, a girl who liked to hold his sand pail for him, was around, I could zip through a page a second while occasionally lifting my head from the page to observe him placidly patting sand down with his shovel.  The one time I jerked myself fully into the present, hearing a something-is-not-quite-right sound, it turned out to be one of the hens, who had escaped and was pecking around by the sandbox.  
By the time my oldest was old enough to read Harry Potter, the first three books in the series had been published.  At eight, he whizzed through Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  And he wanted the third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  But I had noticed that he found it scary.  
"I think we should wait on the third Harry Potter for a year or two," I said, putting the book on a high shelf and enticing him with The Wizard of Oz, which he appeared to enjoy.  But then he climbed up on a stool, wresting The Prisoner of Azkaban from its hiding place, and devoured the whole thing in a single afternoon.
That night, I awoke four times to howls of "Voldemort!"  Each time, I went into his room, turning on the light at his request, reminding him that there was no Voldemort, discussing why this wickedest of wizards seemed so scary, how in a year or two it would be much easier to tell the difference between a made-up story and a real danger, and whether he might try just waving his hand at the nightmare and saying, "Pui Pui Go Away!!"  Which he agreed to try.  In the morning we were both very tired.
The second child also wanted to read the third Harry Potter  when he was eight and I told him frankly that I wasn't up for any sleepless nights chasing Voldemort nightmares.  But he, too, managed to unearth the book from what I believed to be a very clever hiding place and gulped it down.  He muttered in his sleep, but did not yell.  My theory at the time was that he had not yet developed the reading skills to render the vividness of Voldemort, and didn't quite picture him in the lurid technicolor vision experienced by his brother.  Plus my younger one loved action:  as long as a werewolf was chasing two kids, he lost himself in how fast the werewolf could go, not who was being chased. 
Now my daughter, who is eight, and finally done with all the Betsy-Tacy books, wants to read the third Harry Potter.  She brought this up as the whole family was walking to a restaurant one day.  And I suggested we wait a bit on that one because she'd enjoy it even more in a year.
"I want it now!"  So then I mentioned the nightmares and said we would wait.  And she did what little girls always do.  She turned to my husband, let her eyes get big and tragic, her lower lip pouty and trembly.  She said--or sobbed--"Daaaah--ahh--ddy!" conveying the idea that no greater injustice had ever been done in the history of humanity.  And then he looked at me with his our-child-is-suffering look.  So then I agreed that if no nightmares occurred, she could read the book.  All smiles.
We're on Chapter Three:  the Knight Bus, not the scariest part, so I'm hoping to get some sleep tonight.

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