it's a wonderful life

I don't remember when I decided that Oldest should see It's A Wonderful Life.
I do know that, at that time, I didn't have the same depth of emotion that I do now.
We watched it together and he liked the story - he was sad during the sad parts and touched during the parts when one smiles and nods at the television.

Middle didn't see It's A Wonderful Life until a couple of years ago.
He and I stayed up late one night before Christmas and watched it.
I always forget that the beginning is long and can be boring for a kid, and that the middle part in which the desperation comes into play is sometimes hard to watch.
Middle cried a little at the end of it - but just a little.
I searched his face for what he was thinking but he went off to bed.

It was on last night and I glanced over to see if Youngest would watch it with me.
He seemed mildly interested so I didn't change the channel.
We had missed about 40 minutes of it, but that was alright - I got him up to speed...
George and Mary were falling in love I told him, and George had always wanted to travel the world, see great sights and do great things, but he never had the chance, I explained.
And so we watched.

George and Mary get married and on their way to their honeymoon there's the rush on the bank and on the building and loan company.
I had to explain what 'a rush' was Youngest and I watched him take it all in on the screen -
George's quiet calm, the townspeople's fear, Mary offering up their wedding money and George giving it all away.
It was hard for Youngest. He had a lot of questions.
How does that happen?
Could it happen now, to us?
What would happen to Dad?
Would we lose our house?

I got him through it but I could tell that we were walking a fine line.

He was disturbed by the character of Mr. Potter and said:
Why do people have to be that way?
Why does he want George's business so much, what would that get him?

I probably should have changed the channel -
told him it all works out, but I wanted him to see how and why it works out.
As the plot grew more and more desperate I could hardly wait for George's guardian angel to appear so that Youngest would have some relief...
Mom, I don't like movies like this. I don't like when so many bad things happen to a person and then they are poor...
I was hiding my face and tears when George clutched his little boy - in that wordless moment you can feel your heart ache for him. Youngest hid his face when George screamed at the children - the close-ups of Jimmy Stewart in those scenes are long and frightening.

Clarence the angel appeared and showed George what it would be like if he was never born.
I had some explaining to do here and there as Youngest had not seen George save his brother from the frozen water as we'd missed the beginning.
I totally left out the storyline in which Mr. Gower nearly poisons a child when he is overcome with grief due to the loss of his only son. I was glad Youngest had missed that part of the movie, and the part where Mr. Gower hits little George causing his ear to bleed.

I found myself wondering if I should have waited a couple of years to let Youngest see It's A Wonderful Life -
and even though it all works out in the end, and that Youngest knew it would from what he had heard about the movie or seen pieces of over the years, I could tell by his face that it had not touched his heart in a good way.
He's just learning that there aren't fairy tale angels who are able to show us how things might be.
The realities of adult life are just becoming clear to him and I think he finds them daunting. He's not old enough to see that angels walk among us every day.
It's almost like there's a tipping point at which you can know that things will be okay no matter how bad it may be and he's not old enough to have seen it.
He's young enough to be worried about the bad things that might happen.

I saw it on his face when we went up to bed -
he knows people could lose their homes
he knows people can manipulate
he saw a father want to kill himself out of desperation,
and only a fairy tale made it better.
He wasn't mature enough to follow the metaphor through - to see that we who have family and friends and homes are the wealthiest people in town. I know Youngest - and I know he went to bed thinking about the people who don't have the wealth of these things and the darker side of the story.

I should have changed the channel.


BabelBabe said…
You sometimes blow me away with just what an excellent mother you are.

i will bet he will talk about it with you sometime soon, you can help explain then. but i often forget what an intense movie it is.
Anonymous said…
Hmmmm. Good analysis. I never really thought about that--that you have be able to follow the metaphor. I'll have to ask my girls if they were upset when they watched it, because I'm sure they were about the same age as Youngest. I think they were mostly interested in the phenomenon of watching Josh cry like a woman.
Anonymous said…
I was going to tell you the story about how my 9-yr-old daughter ended up on the hot seat at "Why Wants to be a Millionaire" at Disney World last year. And how, since she's a kid, she could ask a grownup to help her. And how we got my cousin the Rabbi to help her instead of me because my cousin the Rabbi is a very wise woman and has probably seen different movies than the kid so, between the two of them they would know more answers. And how they did pretty well and got thousands of dollars which meant lots of cool pins, but the question that caused them to lose was about the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" which my cousin the Rabbi hadn't seen because she doesn't do Christmas.

But then I thought I would tell you that no, you should not have changed the channel but only you know whether or not it's a good movie for your kid to be watching right now and if you think you should have changed the channel, then you should have changed the channel.

I'm going to give my cousin the Rabbi a DVD of the movie for Hanukah this year, but I'll think twice about which kids watch it because of you.
Anonymous said…
yet another post of yours to add to 'Better Parenting via bb' file.
There are also a couple of books I cannot read to the children. One of them is Love You Forever by Munsch. And an adoption book whose name is escaping me now. I cry so hard I sob trying to read those books. I forgot to tell my mother to avoid those books while she was reading to them, and she came out of one of the boys room in a horrible state a few months' back. I finally got those books out of the boys' rooms.
And I think I'll do the same wtih It's A Beautiful Life...Oddly, we had talked about that being one of the movies for family viewing this Christmas.
Jess said…
Yes. Just - yes.
I struggle with this too.
Anonymous said…
During this time of the year, in this period of politcal correctness and religious fear and loathing of commercial Christmas, in this time of Happy holidays, Season's Greetings and the fear of saying Merry Christmas there are three movies I have to watch each year.

It's a wonderful Life
How the Grinch stole Christmas
A Christmas Carol - the Alastair Sim version please.

I watch them because they remind me why we all get nostalgic for Christmas and it reminds me that even though the holiday is intended as a celebration of Christ, really it is about much, much more than that. If you remove the religious tones of the holiday really it is all about family, love, caring, giving, celebration and keeping in touch with each other. I know that you feel you stole a little of his childhood by letting him watch, but I am willing to bet that a few years from now he too will realize that this film chooses to show us what we all tend to forget, it's all about family and friends and lending a hand.
Anonymous said…
I'm gonna take the other side here and say I think it's okay that he saw it. Please don't beat yourself up. Wouldn't he have found something else to do or asked you to change the channel if it was really too much. I think he had reasons for needing these seeds to be planted. After that party he went to at that enormous manse a few weeks ago, this reality check is likely a good thing. Trust him to work it out. Hang in there.

I also have to say I am dismayed to hear a Rabbi, an educated, spirtual person chose to be cultural ignorant on some level because she doesn't "do Christmas" It's my feeling that it's very important to be very well informed about the things you reject.

Good Luck!
Anonymous said…
oh. now look what you've done; you've gone and made me cry.
Anonymous said…
oh. now look what you've done; you've gone and made me cry.
Anonymous said…
bb - we all parent on instinct. I agree with some that he probably would've walked away from it if he really didn't like it (or find it engaging). You let him watch because he has showed so much maturity in other ways - now you see have another example of his sensitivity and awareness of injustice.

He won't be scarred - he's been enlightened and you'll be there for the next few weeks to answer any questions he has.
Anonymous said…

the alistair sim version is very good.

the 1999 patrick stewart version is truer to the book, I enjoy it as well. If you havent read the book I encourage it. I read it every year, and it sets a tone for me for the holiday season.
Anonymous said…
It's impossible to protect children from all the realities of life, try as we may.

You may find this becomes a very transformative experience for youngest. He absorbed all of it on some level and as he matures, he will appreciate the different aspects of it.

The movie may become a touchstone of profound importance in his life as develops his altruistic character.
islaygirl said…
while i sympathize with your mixed feelings about seeing the movie and youngest's reaction, the good part is that you were SITTING THERE WITH HIM.

he wasn't off watching something else somewhere else, he was home with one of his two best role models (K being the other of course) and had the opportunity to ask questions in a trusted and safe environment about subjects that are difficult to handle.

he could have just as easily come across it some afternoon and not had a good sounding board sitting with him in the big leather chair.

youngest is lucky to have you. xo
robiewankenobie said…
what a wonderfully sensitive boy you are raising, bb. i'm sure you'll talk about this more, and that he will grasp the message about blessings being returned to you two-fold, etc. etc. i know, that i forever struggle with these issues as a parent... i just can't help noticing that , in a jaded, overexposed world, you've raised such a wonderfully sensitive boy.
Poppy B. said…

Youngest will be fine.

I've got a couple of sensitive flowers over here myself. (Hell, I'm one; my husband is one--my kids would have to be mutants if they weren't sensitive crybaby pussies like their parents.) So they haven't seen it--not that they'd be interested. (A black and white movie? With no animation? Or Mcdonald's Happy Meal Toys? Are you kidding?)

It's a Wonderful Life is as good a way as any to learn that sometimes grown-ups can be shitheads. And that Jimmy Stewart is crazy scary.
Anonymous said…
You were right not to change the channel, methinks, though that comes from no parenting experience at all.

It comes from experience in watching the movie when I was about ten, and being afraid that an angel would not show up at the right time for everyone.

And then learning, later, after several watchings of the same movie, what I was supposed to be paying attention to all along.

It's the afraid moments that spur us to action. The afraid moments are what shape us, for what are we if not stronger for acting when scared to act?

I still cry at the movie - hell, I cry at the freaking Folger's commercials (but seriously, that one where the son comes home and makes the coffee on Christmas morning for the family and the little girl comes down first and sees him and he says, "shhhh" until the rest of the house can wake up? Even though I always thought it odd that a brother and sister could be about twenty years apart, i always cried at that one.)

Youngest sounds like a sensitive, thoughtful, kind soul, and that can only be a good thing in my book.
Anonymous said…
Wish I were younger and you were my mom.
KPB said…
Yeah, but I shouldn't have snapped yesterday and yelled that weat the boys that we have nothing and why did they have to ruin and destroy the few nice things that we did.
We all should change the channel, but rarely do.
Anonymous said…
I've not seen It's a Wonderful Life and until this post I had pretty much no idea what it was about...

but I'm thinking if youngest is astute enough to understand and worry about what he saw in the movie then it will only take a bit of guidance from you to show him what truly made it a happy ending.

my bet is, deep down and with a family like yours, he already knows.

Anonymous said…
I only ever saw that movie once and I thought it was incredibly depressing. I just don't get it...
Anonymous said…
You can't protect kids from everything, no matter their age; nor can you predict which things will have what effect. My mother thought it would be fun to read James and the Giant Peach to us. She couldn't get past the part where there were people living in a giant peach at the end of the garden because we were both having such nightmares and anxiety from the whole concept of the story, that she couldn't continue.
I still haven't read the whole book!
Anonymous said…
One more thing about "It's a Wonderful Life" ... is that where Jim Henson got the names Bert and Ernie? I just googled Bert and Ernie. Wikipedia says it's a coincidence.
Anonymous said…
Your Youngest is a beautiful beautiful boy, he is. I would be weeping tears of pride that I had such a compassionate and thoughtful child. You are doing an incredibly good job of mothering.
blackbird said…
you all have such nice things to say -
Youngest hasn't mentioned too much about the movie, but he cringes dramatically if it's brought up.

ssheers: I hate to diasagree with Wikipedia but I don't think it's a coincidence. (also, could you register and email address?)
Anonymous said…
This was a lovely post. I totally understand what you mean by his being to young to understand that eventually everything works out. It's so painful to witness your kids focusing on all the bad things that can happen before they're able to zoom out and get a larger view. Mine is just barely beginning to get a sense of how to do that.
What a sweet heart! Lucky you to have such a boy! His asking and talking to you about the film ...he wasn't too young, I think he is a loving boy and trying to understand...

He is lucky to have you, someone who holds his heart in a way that allows him to be a gentle spirit!