Children challenge you in ways you hadn’t imagined, by forcing you to re-examine and explain/justify stuff you hold to be somewhat self-evident. Case in point:
Little E’s favorite movie right now (and mine too, if I’m to be honest) is WALL-E. He likes cute robots doing stuff without a lot of dialogue required to understand it. I think it’s actually a cracking good little high-concept science fiction piece that got snuck in the back door in the packaging of a kids’ movie (nicely done, Pixar!). And the soundtrack by Thomas Newman is just this side of brilliant – with the long, dialogue-free stretches of the first half of the movie, Newman has the responsibility of cluing the audience in on the implications of what’s going on.
During the scene where WALL-E is chasing a laser dot (part of the landing sensors of what he doesn’t realize is an approaching spacecraft), the music really kicks in, and at one point, out of the blue, on what had to be WALL-E viewing #39 at the very least, Little E said “Dad, why is that music doing that?”
That brought me up short. I was enjoying the music tremendously, but my enjoyment of music is very much an instinctual, gut-feeling sort of thing. And now I had to explain it. Uh…?
I quickly turned it around into a question. “How does the music make you feel?” (At about this point, WALL-E was burying himself to protect himself from the heat of the ship’s engines.)
“Scared,” he said.
“I bet WALL-E’s pretty scared right now too,” I told him.
He thought about it a moment. The movie continued and the music quieted down, and took a different tone as EVE started exploring the planet. “What is WALL-E feeling right now?” he asked.
I responded, “Well, what’s the music telling you?”
“I don’t know,” Little E said.
“Well, WALL-E doesn’t know anything about EVE yet either,” I said.
He either started to grok what I was saying, or he was tired of me answering his questions with further questions. It’s a very Zen teaching method, but I can also see where it’s an exasperating one at times. (I think that’s why I’m not a teacher.)
I really hope that it was the former, because the movie score (and its frequently budget-addled nephew, the television score) is an art form I love dearly, and I’d love to share my knowledge (and sheesh, my library) with him. He’s showing signs that he may just be “getting” music on the same gut-feeling level as his old man, who couldn’t sight-read sheet music to save his life or sing well enough for his supper. If this is an Area Of Interest, maybe some more intensive edumacation – more than what I’ve ever gotten – is something he’d be up for.
One thing that I think my mom got absolutely right with her parenting method was that she never, ever tried to steer me toward being a doctor, a lawyer, or anything like that. She waited for these Areas Of Interest to make themselves known and would kick some doors open to fuel those interests and see if there was Something There. That, too, is a bit unorthodox, but it’s something I intend to turn into a family tradition.
In the meantime, thanks to WALL-E, my son can hum “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from memory (I’ve played him the full version of the movement quoted briefly in the movie) and knows the words to that Peter Gabriel song in the end credits. Not a bad start.