Lost Fish: Films and Fear in pre-school age children

watching a film

Last week while going around LIDL, I spotted some toffee popcorn and had a bright idea. It was time for a film night. We hadn’t really watched a film with The Boy since the endless Muppet-marathon of September last year, and he was probably going to be that much more able to grasp a longer story line now, six months later. I put the popcorn in the trolley.

“When we get home, we’re going to watch a film!” I announced.

“A film!” the Boy cheered.

“Which one would you like to watch: Cinderella, Ratatouille, The Muppets or Lost Fish?”

“Lost Fish!”

Finding Nemo it was.

I should explain that this was a risky venture.

We have made several attempts to have “nice family film nights” (or afternoons) with the Boy, most of which ended in tears. It turns out that Disney is pretty darn scary when you’re only 3. I realised pretty quickly that Ratatouille wasn’t going to happen when in the first five minutes the loveable furry main character is chased into a river by a woman wielding a carving knife and then a shotgun, after which he loses his family, gets lost and ends up homeless and starving in a sewer.

Cinderella took me by surprise, but it turns out a jolly set piece of a cat – with a broad, toothy, menacing grin – chasing a mouse – with an adorable twitchy nose, wearing a jaunty hat – is actually very distressing to a small boy. So Cinderella had to be switched off as well.

I was a little worried about Finding Nemo, to be honest. It starts with a massive great big shark eating the main character’s wife and all but one of his children, after which it goes on a roller coaster ride of separation, misunderstandings and mortal peril until finally, in the very last five minutes, you get your sugar-coated Disney ending and everything is okay. Mostly, my son doesn’t last past those first few heart-stopping minutes.

But he had once seen all of Finding Nemo – admittedly he was ill and drugged up to his eyeballs at the time – and had apparently been left with quite a positive feeling about it. Possibly because he had got to the end and realised all turned out okay. Whatever the reason, he had remembered the film as “Lost Fish” and I thought we’d risk it and I would just make sure I was to hand to comfort him and put things in perspective where necessary.

And the Girl? Over Christmas, when the Boy had been backing away from the television, terrified yet unable to unglue his eyes from the screen while watching the Gruffalo, she was calmly sitting on the sofa watching the story unfold, munching on a bread stick.

“Ah, she’s fearless,” we said to each other, with not a little pride. And that was what we continued to think, watching her try to scale climbing frames and slides meant for much older children, hurling herself through life, running away from us on tiny shoes adorned with strawberries. The Girl is a ninja badass. I didn’t even consider her feelings in my impromptu film night idea.

Finding Nemo was going really well I thought, and I was even able to retreat quietly into the kitchen to cook dinner. Then I heard a familiar whimper of fear. We were now in the midnight zone and Dory and Marlin were being chased by the angler fish.

But it wasn’t the Boy who came running into the kitchen. It was the Girl, padding on her little feet, reaching for me in distress, expressing with her limited vocabulary what the matter was: “Fish!”

And I realised that maybe it wasn’t that she was fearless. Maybe around Christmas time she was still too young, to understand context, to pick up on the implications, the scary music, what those massive teeth might mean, that the little fish she liked were screaming because they were scared of being eaten. And now, three months and a vocabulary explosion later, she had discovered fear.

So I did what any self-respecting parent would do.

I gave her a cuddle, then put her back on the sofa and wrote a poem about it.

 

Enter the World

Your world was safe, cocooned, defined
It was out and underlined
My arms your home
My hair your own
Image sound the world awash with colours friendly noises hugs and hair

You stood up, stepped and turned away
Charged into a world of play
A joke, a game,
You learned your name
Detach break free you ran off tugging me along by painful strands of hair

But with the wonder also crept in fears
New awareness came with tears
New lines to cross
With joy comes loss
Vast scenes and spaces gripping terror of a world without the comfort of my hair

Still I am always there
When dangers send you crying
you come flying to me cooking up some dish
you wail of “sad” and mourn for “fish”
unnamed undefined yet fear of dying
brings you crying hand still reaching
screeching for the soothing comfort
of my hair.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

 

I read this poem at the Virtual Open Mic Night on 25 March 2014 – watch it here!

 

Prose for Thought
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