by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
My children are obsessed with Pokémon. They study their (multiple) Pokémon handbooks and discuss hit power and abilities with the intensity of a politician in election season discussing Platform and Message. It seems that we cannot have a meal, a conversation, or even a ten minute drive without debating the relative merits of Arceus versus Mew, of how cool Ash’s hair is or how Brock falls in love with all the girls he meets. I now know in terrific, killing detail a whole host of (to me) utterly boring information.
I am reminded of how as preschoolers they loved the book Goodnight Moon, and would ignore the many available books in favor of the same one every night, day in and day out, month after month after month. I developed a hatred for Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. I suggested alternate books, (“Who wants to go to the bookstore and get a NEW Book AND a new toy to go with it?”) using that bright, high voice of mothers everywhere trying to manipulate their children.
They remained magnetically connected to Goodnight Moon. When I hid it under a stash of books, they would find it. I realized that in spite of my boredom and active annoyance with the book, they experienced reading the book each night as a form of security, a stable and predictable world to return to after the chaos and confusion of preschool.
Because I finally figured this out I read that book night after night without (much) complaining. Actually that’s not true. I just saved the complaining for when they weren’t around.
I think their current Pokémon obsession fulfills a similar need: It’s a fantasy world more complex than a picture book, thus age appropriate, and it offers an escape to a land where kids are powerful and important creatures, and where all the players are ordered into neat categories of power, size, weight, ability. Unlike the messy, amorphous real world in which human interaction comes laden with emotional ambivalence, lack of resolution, and continuity, Pokémon is a tidy alternative world.
This morning I cuddled my son and looked at his Pokémon handbook with him, the one so intensively studied that the cover has literally eroded like a rock in a stream; I decided to surrender my opinions (They need intellectual variety! This is a waste of time! And the really scary one: This is my fault! I’ve somehow failed!) and just hang out. It was amazingly sweet.
As parents and as people we can get stuck in wanting to arrange the activities and the beliefs of those around us. How lovely it is to surrender the desire to control and just be.