Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Elliot and the Beave

Recently I've made a new blogging friend that I'd like to share with my family and friends. Shady Dell Music and Memories is a blog that feels like a living place, where the music is always playing. While songs of a treasured past roll out, a story scrolls down... of people building community in an extraordinary way. The Shady Dell was essentially a teen club where heady adolescence was allowed to thrive in an almost entirely self-regulated environment. Although the building and the founders are gone, it now exists in memory...a memory that comes to life each week with nostalgia for those who shared this journey, and discovery for those who came later.

Shady's blog reminds us that in our culture we tend to look to the future for our knowledge and entertainment. We're all about what's happening now, and have a collective amnesia about the existence of our past. When we think of history, we sometimes think of it in terms of "academic" history...the history in text books, ancient history or the stuff that's reported to us on the History channel. How often do we sit with someone who lived just a little bit earlier for a living account of how the world was for them? In listening to our past, we have a great resource to enrich our own lives in this moment right now. This week on Shady's blog there's a clip from Leave it to Beaver. I realized that Elliot would appreciate this show and allowed him to watch it on lunch break yesterday. In our house we have something called "broadcast cable" which is just enough channels to get the evening news and PBS. So even though Elliot is aware of Nickelodeon and Disney, 24 hour a day cartoons are not available. Maybe his limited exposure to tv has made an impact, but whatever the reason, he was instantly enthralled with the black and white images on the screen. I found a longer clip of the Leave it to Beaver pilot show, where Beaver is experiencing second grade. I was instantly endeared to Beaver's pronunciation of words and his sweet face. Elliot liked that Beaver was a second grader. His first reaction to the show was to continually ask me questions:

"Is this about Justin Beiber?" (he's never seen Justin Beiber, but has heard the name from his friends)

While a girl in Beaver's classroom read a story about a picnic, a story in which every sentence ended with the word picnic, Elliot said in a sing-song voice "Annoying!" And I said, "she's learning how to read. Aren't you glad you had different kinds of books that had interesting sentences? School is different now." Then he wondered aloud if my classroom was like that. I said that it was similar, but that Beaver's class was probably more like Grandma's classroom.

When Beaver came home and had a dialogue with his parents about school, Elliot said "he has nice parents." Then for a little while he stopped asking questions and got swept up in the story of how Beaver was afraid to give his mother a note from his teacher, and how he and Wally pretended to take a bath. He immediately picked up on the double standard of talking about dishonesty (Beaver hiding the note and how Wally said that's not a good idea) and only pretending to take a bath. He said, "is this a lesson show?" Then he spent the rest of the time picking up on every little dishonest act as Beaver's lie about the note grew bigger and bigger. Unfortunately we could not find the conclusion of the pilot on YouTube so we're left not knowing how it all worked out.

Hours later in the day, while we were driving around town, I realized that Elliot is at an incredibly moral stage of life. He fully believes in keeping the Ten Commandments, and has gone so far as to interpret "bear false witness" as "lying." He'll often say "thou shalt not lie is one of the ten commandments." Elliot struggles with his own morality and has since he was a small child. In our Quaker preschool he was introduced to pacifism and the dilemma about war still leaves him conflicted. The truth is, Elliot is very attracted to war, and soldiers, and his Star Wars movies and games. After sitting quietly in the car for nearly 20 minutes yesterday, he said this: "If I went to war and only killed droids, it would be okay. That way I wouldn't be killing God's creation. So I finally found away around that one!" And I was blown away that for the last four years he has been trying to untangle the inexplicable knot of war and peace to his advantage. Of course, we carried on this conversation at the dinner table, and Richard wisely pointed out that the only way to be truly moral is to not engage in any kind of war no matter if you are just killing droids. Because as soon as you take on the mindset of destruction, you are at war and that is not peace.

And my son accepted this with grace. But knowing Elliot, I don't think he's finished trying to work it out. Too bad there's not a show that can help him out with that!

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