Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ittybit's 'Other Mother' would never approve

"He just smacked me on the head. He needs a time out. If you don’t give him one I will."

She may only be six, but she’s already a better mom than I’ll probably ever be.

Even on the rare occasions when she and her brother disappear happily into a world of make believe, she’s the loving mother who knows just what to do … usually the opposite of what she thinks I might do.

It occurs to me that when it comes to parenting failures, I don't just get to the brink of bad and teeter on the edge or even fall over its cliff unable to stop forward momentum. I sense impending doom and plunder right ahead as if getting to the other side will redeem me.

Case in point:

Sunday afternoon Ittybit wanted to watch a movie. So we HBO Anytimed "Coraline."

Now, I had previously watched about two-thirds of the film and thought it was tame enough for Ittybit, who, as a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, LOVES all things scary. ... How scary could the ending be?

Turns out the answer is: Pretty freaking scary.

The story itself is kind of a parable of modern life: A family has recently moved to a new and strange place. The daughter is struggling with the transition, but her parents are too engaged in their own lives — chained as it were to their computers and work deadlines — to have much tolerance for her needs, be they real or whims.

One night Coraline crawls through a mystical passageway into a world that is a mirror image of her own life. Only here, her parents seem happy, loving and normal, save for their button eyes. Her Other Mother cooks wonderful meals. Her Other Father sings sweet and charming songs.

One might think the sewing needles, and the creepy doll doppelganger of Coraline that shows up in the opening sequence would be enough to have me switch the channel.

... Or when the Other Mother slides a box with a sharp needle, thread and two buttons, and tells Coraline she can stay in the alternate world if she agrees to the switch.

... Or when the Other Mother, once so seemingly wonderful, turns into a gaunt horror and comes at the daughter with darning needle hands that resemble a spider.

So when Ittybit’s hands came up to her eyes and she tells me she's ready to move on to watching grass grow or paint dry, instead of turning off the TV then and there as a sane parent would have, I convinced her to just hold out to the end.

"Why are you letting me watch this," she asks. "This isn’t appropriate for children. This is NOT good parenting."

The twisted hunk of matter that passes for my brain rationalized she'd already seen the worst part. She'd see Coraline as the heroine of her own story, and then the color would return to the Pink Palace and all would be right with the world again. The End.

"I'll be right here. I promise nothing bad will happen to Coraline. ... It's just a movie. She is an amazingly brave girl, and amazingly brave children always prevail in movies."

And that’s what we did.

I held my hands over her eyes, and told her what was happening.

When the credits rolled, we both sighed in relief.

I thought it was over. We’d made it to the light at the end of the tunnel — the credits.

However, such thinking only works until the lights go out at bedtime and the shadows of innocuous things dance in menacing ways across her pretty pink walls.

The only thing a parent can do after that is settle in under the covers and wait for her breathing to deepen and become steady. Then slip out and cross your fingers the shadows stay at bay until sunrise.

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