Friday, November 26, 2010

Crisis In Infinite Births, or how I'm training my daughter to be a geek

Some people think that becoming a parent means you have to give up your own interests. Cancel the tai chi and the piano lessons. Put your paperback down before it gets too damp. Abandon your hopes of becoming a world-class opera singer. Now the little ones will eat all of your time.

This is not so. Well, to be fair, they do eat your time, all your food and - in the case of my planet-devouring son - a number of home furnishings but, if you involve your children in your interests, then there is hope that your life is not yet over.

To that end, I often amuse myself by bombarding my children with shameless geekery. It's early days with the baby - who really just wants to eat the comics - but Rose, my four-year-old daughter, has a decent knowledge of DC Comics characters, thanks largely to Justice League Unlimited, Batman: the Brave and the Bold and early cinema Superman cartoons.

Here, masquerading as something valid to do with a bored child, is the proof, brought to you by the magic of shorthand and a day when it was too cold to go out.

All of the pictures below are linked (with all due respect) from the official site for DC Comics. All characters are copyright DC, of course.

My first daughter and the Last Son of Krypton

We started with an easy one:

"That's Superman!" she declared, clearly delighted with her own cleverness. "He can fly and he can... I don't know what else. That's all I know."

A little prompting resulted in a rushed rehash of one of those early cartoons. "Remember when there were two Supermans? They were playing a trick on Superman and they were getting every girl's jewellery. That wasn't very nice."

We've had many discussions about Superman and his origins, so I was very pleased when she finally - FINALLY - accepted he comes from another planet. "That means it takes a long, long time to get to Earth. It's sixteen forty miles."

Yes, Rose, that's a very long way.

"The fastest man in the whole wide world"

Then I thought I'd try one she knew, but limit it to the colours and symbol, like this:

Immediately, she grinned, "That's the Flash! He can run very fast and he can keep up with other people who are going really, really fast."

Then she added, all in a Speed Force-fuelled rush, "He can put his socks on really fast. He puts his superhero clothes on very fast and never misses any problems because he's so fast. He's the fastest man in the whole, wide world but you're not as fast as the Flash, are you, Daddy?"

I quietly agreed and, slightly deflated, moved on.

Thanagarian weapons for beginners

In petty revenge, I hit her with two at once:

This was more tentative. "Er... Hawkmans?" To be fair, it's not too clear a picture of Hawkgirl at this size. Rose is a Hawkgirl fan.

"They can fly. And they have a wand that's round but it's spiky on the round bit. They hit baddies."

A little perturbed by talk of hitting, I pressed the point. She said it's "not good to hit people but it's good to hit baddies because that's what helping's all about."

I was genuinely concerned by this, and the effect that cartoons might be having, so I emphasised that superheroes are only pretend and hitting is wrong. She agreed straight away, a little impatient with my stupidity. "I know, daddy. It's only a story!"

That's me told, then.

Interplanetary commuting

This one was a toughie, especially with the new costume:

But I need not have worried. She used to call him "the hunter man" but this time was spot on with the Martian Manhunter. "He can fly and he can make himself invisible. He's an alien and he comes from another planet."

I sat back smugly, pleased with my training programme for the little geekette, until she added, "I don't want to come from another planet. Then I wouldn't have my Mummy and Daddy. I wouldn't like to live on Pluto."

Hmmm... must buy a poster of the Solar System.

How to terrify Hello Kitty

Next, can she recognise a villain?

The answer was no. She knows Grundy from the Justice League cartoons but had no idea who this was.
"He definitely a baddie. He's not a superhero because he's scary. What's he doing to that lady?"

Grabbing her Hello Kitty soft toy, she added, "Kitty's too scared to have a peek!"

I moved on swiftly, to minimise the trauma.

Fashion tips for princesses

I confess I put this next one in to see if she'd like the costume. Wonder Woman is another of Rose's favourite superheroes.

Surprisingly, she knew who it was with only a slight hesitation, before adding, "She looks 17." That means "old", she confirmed.

Then I was treated to another long speech, full of a small child's wisdom. "She's not very young but she still has her mum. I think she needs her mum to look after her. Maybe she still wants to live with her mum. She's wearing different clothes because it's a cold day. Or maybe she wanted to buy new superhero clothes."

Fair enough.

No sweeties shall escape my sight

And finally my own favourite, to end on an easy one:

As expected, she knew him immediately. "Green Lantern can fly and he has a magic ring that shines out green power." Beyond that, she admitted, she didn't know anything about him, except he's "nice".

His friends are, apparently, "Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Hawkgirl, Green Lantern, Batman and Wonder Woman."

Hmmm... John Stewart's relationship with Hawkgirl didn't pass her by, then.

My 10 cents' worth

So, what did I prove with my Incredibly Scientific Experiment into a child's perceptions of superheroes? Well, nothing much except she was terribly keen to please me and she enjoyed doing something with her dad. Also, she's a bit wary of villains, has a strong sense of morality and has no problem whatsoever in separating fact and fiction.

And she has very specific suspicions about why Green Lantern and Hawkgirl were kissing.

What this really proves is you only get so much time with your children and it's best to make the most of it. There's no need to give up your interests if you can involve them, even if cycling or swimming or something is a little bit more healthy than gathering a boxroom full of mouldering comics.

While I typed some of this up, Rose went off and got into her crayons and paper pile, then came back and presented me with this:

It's a book she made for me, and it's full of drawings of superheroes. She did it with no prompting and no help at all.

This is Superman at the North Pole (probably inspired by the cartoon version of "The Man Who Has Everything").:

This is Wonder Woman (I prefer this new costume):

This is the Flash:

And this is my favourite girl in the whole, wide world:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ah, the children of the night. What music they make.

When you're not a parent, one of the things that tends to put you off producing offspring is the noise they make.

Trust me: that's a good thought. You happen to be absolutely right.

Every parent dreams of five minutes' peace. That's proper peace, with a quiet environment and no stress. It doesn't count if you're hiding in the cupboard under the stairs, clutching a mug of tepid tea and trying not to sob too loudly, as THE TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE SCREAMS float up the hallway.

It's hard to describe just how the flesh can creep when your own child lets rip with a teeth-rattling shriek. Of course, any parent reading this knows perfectly well how stress levels can go from nought to 60 in 6.2 seconds at the merest hint of a squeak from the tiny people.

Children: a guide to identification

When he's in a good mood, this is what my little boy looks like:

When he is hungry, this is what he sounds like:

It's difficult to describe the feeling, as a parent, when your cute little abomination in the eyes of God needs someone to lay hideous eggs in. Of course, the problem can often be solved by something as simple as a breadstick, but that doesn't stop you wanting to claw your own ears off.

If H. P. Lovecraft had written children's books

Then there's the variety of noises involved. Parents learn to identify different types of crying, in the same way that early man could identify how close a wolf was by the sound of its blood-chilling howls.

Apart from the hungry cry, there's the making-a-crying-noise-but-not-really-crying cry, which indicates your child has simply decided to be a pain in the backside today. Supernanny tells you to ignore it but nerves only last so long before they snap like a rotten rope swing.

Then there's the I-won't-go-to-sleep cry, which I get a lot. When you inevitably capitulate and pick the little nightmare up, you know you're simply hitting the reset button and it will all begin again when you leave the room. You just can't help it.

Or how about the change-my-nappy cry? That's a particularly tough one, as it's hard to identify and can sound like the others - but leads to massive guilt when you catch the stink of a sleeping, tear-streaked child. Yes, children make you feel guilty even when they're not conscious.

Finally, there's the mother of them all: the genuine I'm-badly-injured-and-bleeding-everywhere cry. Often, this is used as bait for a child who has, in fact, not severed his own arm with a defective teddy bear, but you don't half react when you hear it. They should use injured children to train our Olympic sprinters. Hmmm... perhaps not.

Yes, it's your fault somehow

The simple truth is that a parent is designed, at a genetic level, to look after his or her offspring. It's nature's way of dissuading us from wandering off for a pint of vodka in the mid-morning. Yes, we make the choice to look after our children because we want to, but to some extent Mother Nature has already made the choice for us.

It's gone quiet now. I'm hoping Makka Pakka has calmed things down a bit. I've spilled my tea in my groin in the dark but it was worth it to escape for a while. I think my breathing has returned to normal.

Wait... what's that scratching?

I hope it's only rats in the walls.