Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Nice Part First

Today Will watched "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" for the first time. ABC is doing this thing where every night in December they air some kind of classic holiday programming. On Monday it was the Grinch; we DVRd it and he got to watch it today.

He knows the story from reading the book and so when he sat down to watch the movie he asked me, "Can I watch the nice part first and then the mean part and then the nice part again?" To Will "the nice part" is the part after the Grinch has stolen all the toys, decorations and food and Christmas day dawns and the Whos down in Whoville still come outside and start singing. Grinch realizes that "Maybe Christmas isn't something you buy in a store, maybe Christmas means something just a little bit more" and then his heart grows three sizes bigger and he goes back down to Whoville and brings all the toys, decorations and food back to the Whos and celebrates Christmas with them.

So that's the part that Will wants to see first, the happy ending. He's three. I'm amazed that this need for the happy ending starts so young. Maybe it's just an innate human trait, to want everything tied up all neatly with a bow.

Will's definitely playing with good and bad these days. Mean and nice. He's very concerned about labelling things as "mean" or "nice". Darth Vader is a "mean guy" and Clone Warriors are "nice guys". Buzz Lightyear and Woody are nice guys; Zurg is a mean guy. And more and more often I'm seeing him struggle with his own perception of himself. Sometimes when he's playing dress up he really really wants to be a "mean guy"; other times he's a fireman or a Clone Warrior and he's helping people, teaching them about how to be nice (that's the job of the Clone Warrior in Will's mind). He was always the cooperative kid in school, followed directions, listened well, played nicely with others. This week he started telling his teachers "NO" when they asked him to do something and for the first time (that I've heard of anyway), he got "in trouble" at school (he didn't stay in the line to wash his hands before lunch and went off to play instead - he got quiet time for that). My little guy is growing up and he's discovering what it means to be "bad" and "good" - and he's trying to figure out where he fits on that continuum I think.

And the Grinch seems to be a metaphor for that. This is the first character I've seen Will grapple with the idea that someone could be both mean AND nice. First the Grinch is mean. He does mean things. Then he learns that being mean didn't make his troubles go away (those noisy Whos down in Whoville sing anyway, despite the Grinch's mean acts) so the Grinch figures that being nice is really the better choice. I think this is a big revelation to my three year old. Good and bad, all in the same person.

I take comfort, though, in his request for "the nice part first." Maybe the mean part doesn't seem so bad when you already know that the story ends well, that the good in you pays off after all. This idea probably wouldn't sell well to the Hollywood types but I'm thinking maybe it's not such a bad idea for my three year old.

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