More Honest Scrapping

The blogging world’s sweetheart, Grad, was kind enough to pass onto me the Honest Scrap Award, which you will all know comes with a meme attached. I have to write ten things about myself, and frankly if you’ve been around the Reading Room for a while, I am an open book to you all. But I will tell you about an incident that happened here last night, and which could be filed under the heading of ‘multiple maternal dilemmas’.

1. What set it off was a classic dilemma for a mother of a 15-year-old boy. My son very much wanted to see the film Watchmen, from the graphic novel of the same name. It’s an 18 certificate and I was not at all sure about it. However, my son has never been one to have bad dreams or to find television programmes or films particularly frightening. He said he would watch it with his father and Mister Litlove was keen (I don’t think they’ve made the film he won’t watch). He said having read the book he even knew when to close his eyes. And then I saw a cheap DVD for sale and so…

2. Yesterday evening my son asked me if I thought his dad would like to see the video. I went off to ask my husband who was at that point cooking dinner. For some reason my son likes having me carry messages this way. He likes to tell me incidents from his day so that I can then recount them to his father in his hearing. It must be like having your own special envoy. Anyway, I conveyed the message, my husband was delighted to relinquish control of the cooking utensils and I united the two domestic superpowers on the sofa. They looked very sweet all cuddled up together. I refused point blank to watch anything so violent and retired to read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in peace over my dinner. I think that’s called irony.

3. A couple of hours later they emerged. ‘Was it really bad?’ I asked Mister Litlove. ‘It had its moments,’ he replied. But it transpired that my son was not upset over what he’d seen but over the ending of the movie. ‘It was a terrible ending,’ he grumbled. ‘It sort of tailed off. Nothing was resolved and there were no real conclusions. I hate endings like that. I like everything to be clear at the end and sorted out.’ ‘You want closure,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ said my son. ‘That’s what I like stories for because they have closure. The ending on this one was really disappointing.’

4. Meanwhile, Mister Litlove had been searching around on the internet for a review or a reading of the movie. Now I’m not about to recount the plot of a film I haven’t seen. But if I’ve understood the menfolk correctly, there’s a clash in the story over modes of retribution. One of the superheroes picks the baddies off individually and metes out justice personally and with great violence. The other superhero, and his enemy, doesn’t see things as black and white, but as shades of grey. Near the end of the film he arranges for New York to be destroyed, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, but saving in the process, apparently, the lives of billions who might have been drawn into the conflict. This probably makes no sense as it’s not at all clear to me, but I could tell the problem was over a sticky moral compromise, and my son is not keen on compromise at all. ‘No one innocent should have died,’ he complained. ‘They should have found a way around the problem so that there was a good ending.’

5. ‘I’ve found someone’s blog post about it,’ said Mister Litlove. ‘And they say that the whole point of the movie is that it is ambiguous and doesn’t deliver a clear moral message.’ ‘That’s what I want,’ said my son. ‘A clear moral message. I do think things are black and white, just like the superhero, Rorschach. And even if life doesn’t always end up the way it should, books and movies ought to. It’s so much more satisfying.’ I thought back to my own 15-year-old self. ‘I’m pretty sure I was just the same as you at your age,’ I said. ‘I liked books because they were clear about right and wrong and had the kind of really pleasing endings where bad people were punished. As you get older, you end up living through moral dilemmas and the experience makes any sort of clear cut judgement that bit harder.’ ‘Hmph,’ said my son. ‘We should talk about this again in 20 years,’ I joked.

6. Of course we kept on talking about right and wrong and black and white well past all our bedtimes. Eventually, Mister Litlove insisted the day was over and my son and I went to clean our teeth. He was by that point complaining that he didn’t have enough control over his life and couldn’t change the things he wanted to. ‘What would you change if you could?’ I asked. ‘People,’ he declared. Ahhhh. Then I began to see that the moral complexities of Watchmen had touched a sore nerve that had to do with school. That’s the thing about books and movies; it doesn’t matter if you’ve been transported to the Australian Outback or a distant planet in a different solar system, somehow or other you are so often being made to think about your own life.

7. My son is in a physics class with a teacher who can’t keep control. And rather than do something about it, the teacher seems to have given up, and simply keeps talking over the din of the boys talking to one another, ignoring him or worse. ‘Every time he turns his back there’s a hail of missiles,’ my son told me. This has somewhat ruined the class for my son, who is not an agitator or an instigator, but alas for him, one of life’s good boys, who only asks to be left quietly alone to get done what he must do. I was exactly the same. I never understood the jungle of the playground, or the wild, random aggression of the children. It left me bewildered and a little freaked. This is what they don’t tell you about parenthood: it is so hard to see your own flaws and weaknesses reproduced in your child in a way that you are unable to do anything about.

8. ‘You know you can’t change the disruptive children,’ I said. ‘You can only change your attitude towards them, and not let them get away with spoiling your day.’ Well, my son knows this, but of course it doesn’t feel that way. ‘I don’t know why people want to behave so badly,’ he said. ‘And it’s not fair that they can do whatever they like and get away with it.’  ‘They’ll get their comeuppance in time,’ I said. ‘You just have to believe in natural justice.’ ‘But I don’t believe in natural justice,’ he complained. ‘There isn’t any. There’s no reason why bad people can’t get through their entire lives with nothing awful happening to them, while good people have to put up with all sorts of tragedies and disasters. I don’t think there is any kind of retribution that you can rely on.’

9. Mister Litlove had been listening at the door and he said. ‘Oh I don’t know. There was a boy I knew in college and he was one of those types who seem to have it all. He was very confident and very clever, but he only did exactly what he wanted and often that wasn’t any work at all. But he got away with it all the time and no one did anything about it. Anyhow, he graduated with a good degree and went to work with Goldman-Sachs. And then we heard he’d been sacked for ‘practices that were not compatible with the culture of the organisation.’’ He grinned. ‘I enjoyed that.’
10. ‘And I think that people who behave badly have some sort of imbalance in their characters,’ I added. ‘I’ve seen a lot of miscreants in college, and whenever we really considered whether they were mad, bad or sad, we always ended up deciding they were basically sad. If that’s how you are, then I don’t think you enjoy life, not really.’ ‘They all seem cheerful enough to me,’ said my son, darkly. Ahh blogging friends it is so difficult trying to comfort children as they get older. Because on the face of it they have right on their side: life is fundamentally unfair, a percentage of the people you are obliged to deal with are fundamentally annoying, and there is no recourse to satisfactory judgement that would make things all right. And for precisely these problems we have stories, that pat life into a better shape and bring us the comfort of meaning and clarity. Unless, of course, their point is moral ambiguity. I wanted to find some argument that would comfort my son, whereas all he really wanted was to be confirmed that he was right. But how can any mother actually say, yes, my darling, this is the terrible world that I have brought you into, and for whose inadequacies I now feel obscurely guilty?

Still, it is clearly natural justice at work here, as I feel I have been taught a lesson about bringing violent films home: they clearly cause way too many difficult metaphysical discussions!

23 thoughts on “More Honest Scrapping

  1. You know…even as a just-turned-24-year-old who accepts much more grey in the world than I did as a teenager, I still come to my mom complaining that the world is unjust. And every once in awhile nowadays, instead of arguing, she’ll simply agree with me. This always leaves me at a loss and makes me quite sad…so I’d say, as a mother, the best thing you can do is argue despite your son’s insistence that he’s right. The argument itself is quite comforting. 🙂

  2. ” But he got away with it all the time and no one did anything about it. Anyhow, he graduated with a good degree and went to work with Goldman-Sachs. And then we heard he’d been sacked for ‘practices that were not compatible with the culture of the organisation.’’

    You mean, he repented his evil ways and became a paradigm of ethics in the financial quagmire–and got sacked? Wow… there’s irony for you

  3. It sounds like a fantastic discussion, especially when I look back to my own 15-year-old self and how dogmatic I was about Good and Evil. I truly thought grown-ups were just being wishy-washy when they talked about shades of grey. But it is pleasing (in a mean-spirited schadenfreude way) when people who were terrible in high school end up in boring, unrewarding jobs. I’m not sure that jerks get more bad luck than nice people, though – the reverse if anything, it sometimes seems.

    On the other hand, I’ve definitely learned as I’ve got older that everybody has a story to tell. Which I think has made me more forgiving.

  4. What a wonderful story. Your son sounds a lot like my own teenage son, who is 16. I love how watching a movie brought forward all of this thinking and analysis on this part. I just started a film watching project with my son. We are going to watch each Oscar winning film from 1929 forward. I’m hoping we will have our share of metaphysical discussions and more as a result!

  5. Oh but it was a wonderful conversation and I’m really heartened by the fact that he could talk all this over with you and Mister Litlove. I also enjoyed the rendering of it here!

  6. I guess I’ve been out of the classroom too long–I’m almost surprised that that sort of behavior goes on in schools–it seems more like something out of a bad movie. It’s nice to hear your son is one of the studious ones who just wants to get on with it all. And it would be a major moral dilemma at that age–I’d not want to go back for anything. At least he is comfortable talking with you and Mr Litlove about it. He sounds like a smart young man, though unfortunately these sorts of situations are going to pop up more as he gets older. Still, I totally believe in good and bad karma…and what comes around will probably go around, too. One can always hope anyway.

  7. I love these excursions into the House of Litlove, you three are such excellent company! I love that your son is grappling at quite a sophisticated level with these moral and metaphysical questions, and that debate in your home is so multi-dimensional and robust. He’ll benefit immeasurably from all this, even from the conflict and dissatisfaction he feels, and that means his community will ultimately benefit too. And not bad for a comic book, eh? It’s good to see Watchmen still stirring hearts and minds long into the night – not a bad result at all.

  8. Now I very much want people to agree with me that the world can suck, but I don’t think I’d have really liked it when I was your son’s age, mostly because there’s even less he can do about it at the moment. I’m not as sure about natural justice as you are, but sometimes I see people I used to know (read disliked) living lives I wouldn’t want and even though they seem quite content, it makes me feel a bit better.

  9. Your son is a boy after my own heart. I felt the same way in high school and then in college my annoyance and dismay was transfered from the bad people to the people who sucked up to professors and reaped benefits not because they worked hard or were smart but only because they flattered the professor’s ego. Had these people no integrity? I don’t believe in natural justice but as others have said, it is rather satisfying to discover that at least some of these people got what was coming to them. I must say though, what a wonderful conversation to have with your son. My parents never managed such things. When I’d complain about how unfair something was all they’d say was life isn’t fair and while that may be true it’s not very helpful at all.

  10. If you think it might comfort him, please point out to my nephew that his views on the function of fiction are supported by no lesser authority than Oscar Wilde’s Miss Prism –

    Miss Prism. Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.

    Cecily. Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.

    Miss Prism. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

    Cecily. I suppose so. But it seems very unfair.

  11. I had a student once, who, after watching and discussing a film in a cinema class, complained that I’d ruined normal entertainment for him because now he had to THINK about every film he saw. Oh no! It sounds as if the same dreadful torment is going on in your home, under your very nose!

    Shades of grey are hard. As Jenny says above, everyone has a story to tell, even if it’s an awful one or one we wish we hadn’t heard. That’s what literature is all about, to me.

  12. The Litlove family life sounds ideal -I’d guess there’s been a solid bedrock of ‘quantity time’ throughout your son’s 15 years, rather than artificial packages of ‘quality time’. It restores my hope for the future.

    Thank you for sharing that thought provoking and delightful story.

  13. This teenage predicament is not unfamiliar in my memory and I think, based on no evidence at all, that the male takes longer to get to shades of grey. The desire for the old white horse world is deep rooted. I think my son is getting there, shades of grey, but he always sees himself at the white end of the spectrum – which leaves us guess where? A lovely account and it just shows how all sorts can provoke the most interesting of discussions.

  14. You have the best discussions as a family! It makes me want to park myself at your kitchen table and never leave. (I’ll stay quiet, I promise). Your son sounds like the type of boy I want my daughter to date (older, naturally)and that’s the best compliment I could give any boy. Growing up is difficult, but he’s got you and his dad to help him sort it all out, which he will.

  15. Dear LL, I haven’t been here in ages (is that ALWAYS my opener?) but how timely that I rediscovered you now, with this real life thing on moral ambiguity and WATCHMEN…Not that I have anything to add, but basically it was a comfort to see the same kinds of discussion running through your family and the same pushmepullyou of parenthood. Sometimes, we just need to hear and know that others are dealing with it, too. And while I think our son is leaning towards cynicism, he has also taken up the pen to write, as a newbie journalist and I think he’s working things out. Of course this does not the stem the side of black-and-white right-and-wrong in which he is presently enmeshed but it does help him see the other sides when he interviews and researches. Egads. Was Hillary correct when she says “It takes a village?” Or, have we de-contextualized that comment as well and abused it into meaninglessness? Sigh. I don’t know. Just glad to hear your discussion on the movie. Thanks!

  16. What a great post. I love your Lit-loving posts as well, but these glimpses into the domestic and parenting world of you and Mr. Litlove are wonderful. That’s a lucky kid you have there.

  17. Eva – that’s so interesting you should say that! I will stick with my policy of defending hope and justice then, even if I occasionally have my doubts. 🙂

    Jacob – lol! I think that would have been a miracle.

    Jenny – oh I was exactly the same, and I am still pleased to see jerks getting a comeuppance, even if it is not a reliable event. I probably shouldn’t, but then again, if I don’t say too much about it, karma may pass me by! But things do change with experience, don’t they?

    Shelley – thank you, that’s so kind! He doesn’t always think that, but then as we’re mum and dad, it goes with the territory!

    Kathleen – I so loved the idea of your Oscar-project with your son. I am sure you will have some fabulous discussions, and I look forward very much to hearing about them!

    Lilian – it’s one of the things I worry about, that my son will become super-quiet, as he has always been on the silent, observational side. But he regularly becomes lively late at night when he ought to be going to bed!

    Danielle – I know what you mean about school, but alas nothing seems to have changed since we were there. Which is disheartening in many ways! He doesn’t tell us much about school, but every so often something will come out. It’s trying not to miss those moments or jump on them too enthusiastically… And I keep holding out for karma. The balance sheet does even out in the end, I feel sure.

    Doctordi – how lovely it would be to have you in the discussion with us! And I gave him Watchman in the first place (the book that is) because I’d heard it was provocative. If he’s my son, he’s obliged to think, poor mite! But nowadays he likes a good argument, so long as he wins at least some of it. But sometimes it’s tricky to know how far to push for truth and how far to settle for what he can grasp. I keep working on it!

    Jodie – isn’t that the worst thing about childhood (which otherwise has so many advantages) – lack of control. You can’t affect the things that affect you, and that can feel really stifling. I think I want to believe in karma and for that reason I do, but I can quite see the other side. Still, not long now and teenagers start becoming a bit more human, although maybe that’s also wishful thinking on my part!

    Stefanie – you are in good company over here. I think all three of us were/are non-disruptive types who feel uncomfortable around both aggression and sycophancy. Integrity is all!! And yes, there is a sense of rightness when actions bring moral consequences, every once in a while! If you wanted to come over, we could do our best to make you feel better about global injustice right now. 🙂

    Belgian auntie – if there’s anything that’s almost as satisfying as natural justice, it’s literary backup for one’s beliefs! Thank you for that. And Mister Litlove says to tell you he is very impressed you still remember the lines…

    Jenny – lol! I am very stubborn in my determination to make people think, and undoubtedly have been cursed by many a student in my day! My shoulders are broad… And thankfully literature is a place where everyone’s voice can be heard, and bravo to that.

    Christine – what a nice comment, thank you! I do hang around my son as much as possible. Won’t be long before he’s off and away, and I’m stocking up on his presence while I can. 🙂

    Bookboxed – I am also gratified and relieved to know that you have the same experience at home! And interested also in the thought that it might be a little more prevalent in boys. My son is not at all interested in the grey at present, and quite unrepentant about it, but everything changes in time. I’ll keep you posted – and let me know if you come across any useful strategies for persuasion!

    Grad – oh you would be so very welcome at our table! But only on condition that we get to hear your thoughts, too. Do you have a daughter of suitable age? I am quite willing to consider an alliance… 🙂

    Qugrainne – Yes! I did finish it and I did enjoy it. I’ll be writing about it very soon!

    Oh – I am loving hearing about other people’s experiences too! A career in journalism would be a very interesting thing indeed to have a vicarious experience of, and will undoubtedly prove a useful training ground for your boy. How wonderful! Both our sons will have their thoughts deepened and nuanced over time, I don’t doubt. And it’s lovely to see you here whenever you can drop by!

    David – oh that is so kind of you! He gets very fed up with us at times, but since he’s 15, he’s quite allowed to be. Goodness me, I’ve often been known to irritate myself on occasion! 🙂

  18. That conversation sounded all too familiar, for I recall having similar ones with my own son at several points during his school days and young adulthood. I don’t know if he’s come to terms with life’s moral ambiguities yet..I do know he still loves to watch awful movies on television, so perhaps that helps him in some way!

    Delightful post 🙂

  19. Count me in as one of the non-disruptive types who would hate to be in that class! I like the idea that people who behave badly in whatever way do so out of some kind of imbalance in themselves, and even if the world isn’t just at all, there’s a kind of justice that comes from such people having to live with themselves.

  20. How lucky your son is to be able to have those kind of critical discussions with you both. Working out his own philosophy on these issues is so important.

  21. I dated a woman once who had a teenage son. Whenever he wanted to venture into morally nebulous territory and do something she didn’t approve of, she told him, “it’s not the way of our peoples.”

    I think he got the irony. Still, it usually worked. We’re all so susceptible to the behavior of our neighbors, aren’t we? She got a lot of mileage out of that one.

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