Too Soon?

pillowcaseToday was the day we’d all been looking forward to for quite some time. Our three-year old son was finally going to get to meet his hero, Darth Vader, in person.

We woke up early and rushed to Hollywood Studios in the hopes that we could sign him up for Jedi training. Nevermind the fact that kids were suppose to be four to participate. We were willing to tell a little white lie if it meant that our son could finally go head to head with his hero.

Once scanned in the park we moved as fast as we could. There were folks quicker than us, but we were able to get him signed up for the 10:20 show. Nobody asked him for his ID and nobody asked him his age. We had even told him to say he was four if anyone asked.

It was only 8:30 so we had a little time to walk around the park. Meanwhile the only thing on any of our minds was the fact that Derek was getting ready to be up on stage with Darth Vader. We came back early and since his training wouldn’t begin for a few minutes, my wife took him to watch the first group of kids/Jedis battle Darth Vader and his evil Storm Troopers. We thought this would psych him up.

Well you will never believe what happened next. When my son saw Darth Vader in person he was terrified. His exact words were, “Darth Vader is a scary monster!”

What?

We rushed to the park, got him on the list, even convinced his reluctant sister to join him, only to have him opt out at the last-minute?

Are you kidding me?

I was angry.
I couldn’t believe it.
What a waste of time!

And then it hit me.
Darth Vader is a scary monster.
That is his M.O..
Why would wouldn’t my three-year old, who still uses his pacifier and still drinks from a sippy cup be frightened by him? 

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Playing make-believe with action figures and seeing “the real thing” in person are two totally different things. And the more I think about it, my son’s reaction makes total sense. Heck, I think I’d pee my pants if Darth Vader even so much as glanced my way.

You know what? I’m glad my son is afraid of things that are scary and I’m comforted by the fact that he still lets us know. I worry about the fact that kids today are forced to grow up too soon. Or at the very least, they are exposed to things much earlier than I believe they should be.

This year I have encountered children saying and doing things that have absolutely floored me. Their actions and their words have forced me to have conversations with them and with their parents that I would’ve never imagined.

Conversely, children today are able to accomplish more than I think we could’ve ever imagined. Elementary school students are coding, middle school students are using Makerspaces to create robots and high school students are designing their own apps.

On a more personal note, I am quite certain that my wife and I will need to have “The Talk” with our nine-year old daughter any day now. But I also know that this is the same girl who anxiously awaits Santa’s arrival each year and the same girl who doesn’t mind holding my hand in public. So therein lies the paradox. We want to help our children grow up, but at the same time we want to preserve their childhood.

Just last week I was reading the Dr. Seuss’ Fish Out Of Water to my son. Midway through the book I read the lines that went something like, “they looked downtown and they looked uptown for …” Without missing a beat, my son started singing “uptown funk you up, uptown funk you up.”  Lyrics from Bruno Mars’ new hit song Uptown Funk. What in the world? He is three! My wife and I have obviously played this song around him enough for him to know some of the lyrics and I’m not really sure what this says about us as parents.

Looking back on the whole Darth Vader Experience I am left with many questions. Mainly, how do we prepare our students and our children for the world they are facing and the world that they will face? This is a question for which I have no good answer. In the words of singer/songwriter Bob Seger, I believe that oftentimes the most difficult decisions lie in “what to leave in, what to leave out.”

I think my purpose in writing this piece was to help remind myself and others of the fact that children only get one chance at childhood. We mustn’t steal this from them and we mustn’t let their increased ability to interact with and navigate the world they live in, cause us to forget the fact that they are still children.

Then again, I think that I worry too much and need to start finding comfort in the fact that I am doing the best that I can. I am going to make mistakes along the way. More than I’m sure I could ever imagine. I must always remember that I am not alone on this journey. And that a journey with few mistakes would be over way too soon and end with very little growth. I was never good at drawing straight lines anyway.

For now I am content in knowing that my son thinks that Darth Vader is a scary monster and that my daughter is still willing to hold my hand in public.

But she is starting to tug.

And that’s okay…

I need to let her grow up.

I just don’t want it to be too soon.

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Derek playing with his Star Wars action figures the day before seeing Darth