My kid reads Kesey.

Acceptable novels and Halloween movies

September 28, 2020

It’s almost Halloween.

And by “Halloween” I mean, of course, the last few days of September, the entire month of October, and a 10-day period of mourning observed at the start of November.

As such, we are appropriately seeking out every opportunity to catch the movies of this, the most magical season of the year. We’re movie people, okay? We’re story people. We adore a good story, and the ones we love best we read, or watch, over and over and over again.

So far, as a family, we’ve watched the majority of Hocus Pocus (thank you expensive-yet-crappy satellite internet, which makes the ability to stream an entire movie in one sitting at even the bottom of the barrel video resolution about as possible as cold fusion), and The Addams Family – the 1991 version with Anjelica Huston – almost three times. We’re currently halfway through our third viewing as I write this.

Morticia Addams and her doting husband, Gomez, have been some of the strongest models for ideal parenthood I’ve ever internalized. They are so blissfully unconcerned with social expectations and arbitrary norms that it’s, like, Matt Foley level inspiring to me.

They are every bit as judgmental as the rest of us, but they’re so concretely secure in their rightness of position and perspective, in all things, that they don’t even lift a finger to try and camouflage their weirdness. And their kids?

Okay, so all kids are different and maybe Pugsley has a less…traditional sort of inherent wisdom about him but Wednesday, at least, is wicked smart. Not just in terms of vocabulary and deadpan wit. But socially, she is both keen and self-secure. I think she really won my whole wasted heart when she set the Thanksgiving play on literal fire at summer camp in the third movie. But even in her humble, 1991 beginnings, lines like “are they made from real Girl Scouts” and antics like surprise Shakespearean violence at the elementary school musical had me 100 percent heart eyes for her by the tender age of eight.

Tish and Gomez nurtured her sinister weirdness unrepentantly, and the girl is brilliant and fearless because of it. I love those guys.

Unrelated aside: If Fester’s bed doesn’t look like the most amniotically comfortable nest in which to snuggle up at night, you will never get what I’m all about. On, like, a fundamental level.

Anyhow, we do this at night. We crawl into my bed before bedtime proper and we watch something we love. Sometimes it’s comedy. My kids love Monty Python. The Holy Grail is one of their favorite jams. The other day, we were rolling through town and they were legit hanging out their windows yelling “Ni” at people on the street. That they would even understand, let alone be entertained by, the level of humor in that movie leaves me awestruck at their brilliance. Sometimes, we’re feeling more horror-y and it’s Hocus Pocus or Addams. Last night, they requested “the one about the pills.”

Before you call Children and Youth on me, tender reader, know that they were talking about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My kids requested that one after I let them watch the clip where Nurse Mildred Ratched gets on the intercom to announce “medication time, gentlemen. Medication time.” As a movie freak, I routinely throw the best lines from my favorite films into everyday conversations and interactions. I’ll never stop. When the girls were little and I had to give them cold medicine or antibiotics I’d draw them into the kitchen, where such things were kept, by calling that very line out into the ether and waiting for them to come, curious enough to investigate what the heck I was talking about at first and, then eventually, just out of sheer habit.

Now that this most sacred time of year is finally rolling around, Netflix is leaning into the spirt by adding more and more great Halloween movies, of which I consider films like Cuckoo’s Nest and Clockwork Orange firmly established tribe members. The horror of things like the power differential inherent in our historical handling of psychiatric illness should turn your stomach into knots of existential dread and moral anxiety at least every bit as much as maniacal chainsaw-wielding human butchers or summer camp stalking emotionally neglected manchildren. So the fact that my kids now, at the age of eight themselves, request films like Cuckoo’s Nest, or laugh at the philosophical silliness of “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords” or being shown the “violence inherent in the system” makes my shriveled heart swell with pride and wonder. Their brains are so beautiful.

Being, now, a homeschool mom I was perusing the school district’s list of “approved” novels for grades 3-12 this evening. Not because I care. My kids are already deconstructing Ken Kesey novels with me verbally at night and creating illustrations of their favorite characters. Approved or not, by the very nature of who I am, these little women are going to get the best musical and literary education known to man. It can be no other way. Whether their reading material is “approved” or not is about as concerning to me as Wednesday’s urge to present the violence inherent in Hamlet to her peers’ parents, complete with an unanticipated Gallagher-style fake blood splash zone. I will not restrict, nor will I even consider putting boundaries on the media my kids ingest. If they’re developmentally ready to solve word problems like “what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow” then my job as their mom is to give them resources to explore those curiosities to the very end of the rabbit hole. To their complete intellectual and creative satisfaction.

Any parent, or any institution, that puts limits of any kind on a child’s curiosity, or that downplays that child’s developmental readiness to tackle big topics by citing arguments like morality or intellectual bell curves is about as concerning to me, about as worth my attention, as Margaret Alford’s lemon-faced judgment was to Morticia Addams.

At least until the sequel.

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