Empathy

Last week, I borrowed Fly Away Home from the library to watch with D.  I winced when I realized within the first few minutes of the movie that they were about to kill off the mother, but it was done subtly enough that I think it went straight over D’s head.  He  loved the movie, and is going around saying that he’s going to ask for it for his sixth birthday (which is only 11 1/2 months away).

We finished our reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe over the weekend.  Prompted by Jody’s lovely description of reading scary stories to an empty room, with her kids peaking around the doorway, it occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t send D to bed having just read the chapter in which Aslan is killed.  So we read two chapters that night, moving right from the death to the rebirth, with hardly a chance to think in between.

Sunday night we watched March of the Penguins.  Some of you are probably seeing the problem coming, but I was totally blindsided.  I wasn’t sure D would have the patience to sit through the whole thing, but he did.  And then some of the eggs were dropped and froze.  And some of the adult penguins were eaten by the leopard seals.  And when the big blizzard hit just after the eggs hatched, and some of the penguins chicks froze to death, he looked at the pictures of the pathetic little bodies and asked if they were going to come back to life.  And we said no, in this world people and animals don’t come back to life when they’re dead.  And he burst into tears. 

We stopped the movie and held him, and agreed that yes, it is sad, and yes, it’s ok to cry, and no, we don’t know why everything has to die.  And after a bit he calmed down and blew his nose, and we watched the rest of the movie.

Of all the things I want for my children, I think I most want them to develop empathy, to be people who pay attention to how things affect others, to be mensches.   But I don’t want them to be what a friend calls "skinless," totally exposed to the harshness and craziness of the world.   

7 Responses to “Empathy”

  1. Kimmers Says:

    As the mom of a (usually) very empathetic child, I applaud your desire for your children. My wish (daily prayer of sorts) for my kids is that they be happy, healthy, whole in body, mind and soul.
    On a related note, I offer you the following blog entry about my son’s very different take on the March of the Penguins. Hope it makes you smile. :-)
    http://elliot.ishatar.org/archives/000631.html
    Kimmers

  2. landismom Says:

    We haven’t seen March of the Penguins for just that reason–I don’t think I can take watching my kids cry over penguin death. We did stop at the end of the Aslan death chapter, but my daughter had already seen the movie, and knew he was coming back. It sounds like your son is definitely a mensch-in-training.

  3. jen Says:

    I just watched March last night. I tell ya, even I was broken up by the little frozen bodies.
    On the other hand, it really reminded me that life is hard! Not everything is a Disney movie, you know? Here’s where I pause to consider what age my kids might be able to learn that lesson. Frankly as a parent it’s hard not to be overprotective; I’m probably the last person able to determine when my kids are ready to learn tough lessons.

  4. amy Says:

    I don’t think you get a choice about whether they’re skinless or not. I don’t think age really takes care of the problem, either. I recall watching Kurt Vonnegut speak in, oh, ’84 or so, and I don’t remember anything he said, because all I could see was how skinless the man was. It was incredibly painful to watch.
    I had the penguin-chick moment at age eight, watching a nature program that involved baby turtles being eaten by birds before they made it from beach nest to the ocean. Sorry to hear about D’s time, and thanks for the Penguins warning.

  5. Mieke Says:

    Jonas was three and half when he saw March. He went with his fatehr. It was his first movie theater experience and he loved it. All the death went right over his head.

  6. Jody Says:

    In desparation in January 2003, just before the kids’ second birthday, I popped in the Frosty the Snowman DVD my brother had just given me for Christmas. I was rushing to make dinner, and then realized, about twenty minutes into the tape: OMG, Frosty MELTS. I tore back into the family room, but the kids were more or less oblivious. They loved that DVD that year, and watched it well into February. (This was back in our two-hour a day period.)
    This year, we watched Frostly once and the kids were DISTRAUGHT over Frosty’s death. And they knew well that he was coming back.
    For what little that’s worth. We definitely won’t be watching “March of the Penguins” this year — but I’m guessing you knew that already. ;-)

  7. Maggie Says:

    I don’t know why, but my 5-yr-old son seems to be very accepting of death as a part of life. He asks about it, seems to understand what it means (this coming through lots of conversations about “good guys” “bad guys” and how once a bad guy is dead, he’s dead). He even said very matter-of-factly one day that Grandpa would probably be dead soon, since he’s so old (!!) something that may very well be true but that I have a very hard time thinking about.
    It might actually be that I’ve done enough religion-talking to him, without subjecting him to the whole Catholic experience, that the idea of some kind of afterlife takes the edge off. I remember being very, very comforted as a child when my mother (who imparted the so-Catholic-it’s-scary experience to all 6 of her kids) told me that if my heaven wasn’t complete without dogs, then certainly dogs go to heaven. I’m still comforted by the idea that my grandparents and my uncle George are with me in spirit somehow, somewhere – despite my very adult cynicism and move away from doctrinaire Catholicism.

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