When I was about the little guy's age, I got freaked by some scenes in this movie. Among the stuff that ended up in my nightmares were Raggedy Ann and Andy being dwarfed by the monstrous Greedy as he basically inhales himself in his massive taffy pit and the hallucinations of the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, who is constantly searching for a mythical land of camels like himself, a place he can call home - but the camel will chase his mirages only to find that they vanish into thin air and leave him behind, lonely as ever.
My parents and I had a giggle when I was a teenager and we observed my brother's reactions to The Black Stallion. He got a bit upset when he saw Alec and the horse shipwrecked on the desert island. "He's all alone????" he worriedly asked my mom.
"Well, yes he is," Mom told him.
My brother watched some more, turning this information over in his mind.
"But, where's his mommy and his daddy, and his sister?????" he asked fearfully. He couldn't conceive of a world where someone so young didn't have those people in his life, and he was scared of the prospect.
So which movie recently opened a window into the deepest, darkest reaches of my child's psyche?
The question that haunted me during "Herbie: Fully Loaded" involved the degree of Herbie's intelligence. Is the car alive? Can it think? Does it have feelings? Can it really fall in love, or is its romance with that cute little yellow VW bug just a cynical ploy to get publicity, since it has a new movie coming out?
That question might have haunted Roger Ebert, but it was no question at all as far as my son was concerned. Herbie was indeed alive to him, and, because of a stupid move on the part of Lindsay Lohan's character, the car became the target of competitors in a demolition derby. It took everything we had to keep from laughing too hard at how hysterical my son was getting over Herbie's plight. My son tearfully advocated turning off the movie immediately, as he had no wish to watch Herbie's demise at the fenders of all those cars in the arena. The best we could do was to change the channel for a little bit until Lindsay Lohan helped rescue Herbie from a possible junkyard fate, change it back when it was clear that the VW Beetle wasn't about to be mashed by a monster truck, and give our little guy some big hugs and some time in our laps until his anxiety passed.
I shouldn't have been so surprised. The kid clearly identifies with darn near everything on wheels. It was no stretch of his imagination for a car to be a living thing capable of feelings and expression.
I do a lot of TV and DVD monitoring for the little guy. These days, I myself am watching less of the tube than ever before because I have not found the news programs to be all that informative or kid-friendly, prime-time is no longer family time, and we don't have cable. I found with the little guy's experience of Herbie:Fully Loaded last night that sometimes there's no predicting what he will be afraid of the most. Close examination of the situation, however, shows that the kid is afraid of abandonment and of being consigned to dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations against his will.
Aren't we all?
As he ages, I will be less and less able to physically shield my son from those possibilities. I myself have NO plans to abandon him, but I'm really not sure which decision of mine, which action I take, which of life's unpredictable turns will somehow tell him that I am not acting in his best interests. I know this is inevitable once puberty sets in - I certainly felt that my parents were somehow standing in my way at that time in my life. I simply worry about how the heck I'm gonna handle that from him, as I'm finding I can barely handle it myself when it comes from authority figures, and I could never handle it well when it came from people I have known on a personal level. "Oh, you're acting in my best interests? Ever think to ask what they even are?"
"Huh. You probably don't even know what's good for you!"
"Well, give me a chance to figure it out!!!!!"
I've been damned fortunate to have been given that chance by my family and friends. I highly recommend it. I plan to give that chance to the little guy. Chances are, he may think I'm holding him back...but that's what family's for, in a way. Balance, balance - flights of fancy seem to mean the most when you can go home afterwards.
For a minute or two, the illusion of a living car in peril took our son to a place he didn't want to go. We brought him back home with our change of the channels, our embraces, our laps, our reassurances that things would turn out all right in the end. There are no guarantees that he'll be able to develop that place within himself and turn to it when he needs it the most...but I guess the best thing we can do as parents is to give him some idea of what that might be like.
At the same time, we have to sit on ourselves and stuff down the impulse to remedy every single hurt the little guy has. Balance...
...and the need to not get too freaked out. For all of us.