Thursday, January 13, 2011

Boys and nonfiction

They say that boys and men respond better to nonfiction than to fiction. Probably true, overall. As a volunteer at Dan's school library, I've seen far more boys than girls in the nonfiction section. On the other hand, it's not like they're a bunch of history buffs or science nerds. They're checking out books from exactly one category: Legos. And sometimes Lego Star Wars, that insanely popular combination of two already insanely popular brands. Sports, cars, wars, and drawing tie for a very distant 3rd place. If Star Wars counted as nonfiction--and judging by the number of Star Wars encyclopedias out there, it might as well be--it would be right up there with Legos. So maybe there are some latent nerds in the bunch.

And then there's my boy, who enjoys nothing better than a good story. I do love that about him.

Still, he also devours those Lego and Star Wars reference books. What is it about boys and men and their fanatic trivia-hungry little brains? I suppose there must be girls who are checking out horse books and real-life princess books (I hate to stereotype, but I haven't seen a single second-grade girl check out a sports book or a Lego book). Somehow, though, it's just not the same.

Read a discussion of this issue here, at an online teacher forum.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Addenda to Rat-a-tat-tat

1) Context: Four adult siblings (RT and his three sisters) and their sig. o's and kids, matriarch, and patriarch and his sig. o. Middle-of-Nowhere, NY. Two cabins on a lake. 20 degrees Fahrenheit, plus wind chill. Effing freezing for me, "not cold at all" for the Minnesota contingent.

2) If you're a math type, you're going, "Wait. Six guns, seven cousins. Huh?" Why it worked out: Cousin E is a thirteen-year old girl and--as befits a girl of her age and temperament--was wearing inappropriate (for battle, that is) attire. Her micro-miniskirt and high-heeled boots made it unseemly for her to climb the ladders into the lofts, though she was wearing tights. So she got to be Ammo Girl--collected darts that fell short of their targets and returned them to the shooters. One time she forgot herself and climbed too high up the ladder. Her older brother S--who had gotten her that skirt for Christmas, incidentally--shouted, "E! Clothes!" and rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Gahd!" (He's from Minnesota.)

3) Ammo Girl reminds me of J. A few years ago, RT and I went to J's bat mitzvah, where she read the Torah, led the service, and did her parents proud. At the party, she wore a knee-length strapless dress--all grown up. Except that, being only thirteen, she didn't know how to wear that dress and sit on a chair and be lifted above people's heads. Clearly, no one had thought to coach her. It wasn't dreadful, but I don't know how the videographer captured that iconic dance or whatever it is discreetly. Anyway, what a great metaphor for being on the cusp of adulthood.

Rat-a-tat-tat late at night wit my gat

Probably Dan's second-favorite Christmas present after the Wii was a pair of Dart Tag Fury Fire Nerf guns (they're sold in pairs). I settled on these for three reasons:

1) With a pair of guns you can play with a friend (or a little brother),
2) they're not as big, badass, or scary-looking as some of the other Nerf guns out there, and
3) thank the Lord for small mercies, they were the ones that Dan wanted.

What convinced him that he wanted the Fury Fire set was this ridiculous commercial, which he happened to click on when I was surfing the Nerf website way back in November or maybe even October. His jaw dropped and he launched his Fury Fire for Christmas campaign right then and there. Luckily, he didn't see any other commercials.

So I got him the guns and looked forward to watching him open the present at Christmas. It went just as I had hoped it would:

Present distributor: Dan, this one's for you.
DAN: I think I know what this is! (ripripriprip) YesAwe-some! Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Dad! Johnny! Johnny, look! Fury Fire guns!

He didn't mind sharing the second gun with Johnny; in fact, he was happy to let Johnny take one.  Six-year-old cousin W got a Nerf gun (different model) from his parents too, so as not to be left out. All three little boys were pleased, cute, and eminently photo-worthy.

But the kicker was this: the big boy cousins (ages 17 and 23), were, um, a teeny bit jealous. Or maybe just nostalgic, who knows. So on a Wal-Mart run the next day, some kind aunties and uncles bought three more guns (Nerf, of course--not real guns, which were also available for purchase). And all seven cousins, ages 3 to 23, had a lovely Nerf gun war in the lofts at Aunt 'T's house.

Who knew? And yet, really. Is anyone surprised? I don't think so.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

We jump off the Brooklyn Bridge

In the days leading up to Christmas, RT and I quietly decided to add this bit of 2nd-grader crack to the list. Turned out we'd both been thinking hard about it, independently, so it wasn't much of a discussion when one of us, I forget who, brought it up one night after Dan went to bed.

The thing that tipped the scale for me was this: Dan was invited to play at the homes of twelve friends in 2010. Of those twelve households, eleven owned a video game console. It's hard to argue against numbers like that. I know, eleven out of twelve friends is a dumb argument. The image of our family blindly following the families of Dan's eleven friends as they leap off that fabled bridge comes to mind, all twelve families plunging to our watery video game graves.

But it's not the numbers alone. It's what (I think) the numbers mean. Which is this: video games are not the expensive novelty item that they were when I was a kid--they're an essential (well, maybe essential is too strong a word) part of the shared kid experience. Kind of like bikes. And (dare I say it?) guns, which we also got for Dan and his sidekick Johnny, and which will appear in a later post. What it comes down to, I suppose, is that I was beginning to feel sorry for him. It really is kind of miserable when you feel like everyone has something cool and you don't.

A smaller factor was that Dan had pretty much given up on ever getting one. He pined for one every time he came home from a friend's house, but I'm sure he never thought we'd listen. And it's so much fun to grant a wish that someone believes will never be granted.

What happened to sticking to one's principles? Not sure. I guess when I looked closely, I couldn't come up with an excellent reason not to have a Wii. I don't think it will kill his imagination or suck time away from reading or playing non-video games. I don't think it will make him violent--if I were serious about curbing violent influences, I'd make him stop reading Clone Wars books.  I've already lost the battle against commercialism and the Lego and George Lucas marketing juggernauts. All that's left is my reluctance to compromise.

So, to mix metaphors, it's a slippery slope to the edge of the bridge. First it's a Baskin Robbins Star Wars birthday cake. Then it's Clone Wars cookie cutters, then Captain Rex shoes. Then Nerf guns. And now the Wii, and the frigid depths of the East River in January. But it's okay. It's okay.