“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Monday, October 8, 2012

Joey and The Half-Blood Prince

As I may have mentioned before, my seven-year-old son is reading the Harry Potter series. We began when he was in kindergarten, innocently enough reading Chapter One of The Sorcerer's Stone: The Boy Who Lived. How heavy was a boy who lived in the cupboard under the stairs? I never anticipated that by the end of first grade, Joey would have already completed book three, or that he would have done it independent of me. I'm an eighth grade English teacher, but I haven't seen many readers like Joey.

I was prepared for him to watch the first movie, and the second movie. My rule is that you must read the book before you see the movie. It is not exclusive to Harry Potter, but it is not all-encompassing, either. There are, I'm sure, plenty of movies we've seen that began as books and we just never knew. But some things, some stories, are Important.

Joey finished the fourth book somewhere in August. I don't want to spoil the series for anyone who does not know it, but I will say that it is in the fourth book that things become dramatically heavier for the hero of the stories. Joey, however, handled it well. He asked questions where he should have, and was able to explain to us important themes and concepts. I had my husband watch the movie with him, though. I admit that I was too afraid of how emotional it might be for Joey to watch these events play out in front of him. His father has a way of making him feel safe even in such moments (where I break down and sob myself and probably scare the hell out of children everywhere), and so I knew it was the better choice.

He finished the fifth book by the end of September. I watched the movie with him while he was home sick. I think the hardest thing for him to watch was Harry's first kiss. Joey can handle fighting and drama and loss, but he hates kissing.

I was surprised in the car today when we were driving around to look for "Halloween Houses" (something we started doing when Joey was about three, and has resulted in me hearing a tiny voice chant, "Halloween Hooooooouuuuuuuse" every time I see a pumpkin or mesh ghost) and Joey asked, "Mom, have you ever been to a funeral?"

It was seemingly out of the blue. I actually connected the question more with the plastic Frankensteins and streaming ghost decorations than with any thought of Joey reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was not until bedtime tonight when Joey handed the book to me, earmarked at the last chapter, and pointed to the paragraph where he'd left off earlier this afternoon.

I'd thought it odd when he'd brought the book downstairs this morning to continue reading after the wake-up hour. Normally, he reads by flashlight until dawn, and is then allowed to come down and start his day. But not today. Today he kept reading.

Today, for the first time in six books, he also accidentally tore a page.

He was devastated. He brought the book to me apologetically, his head hung low, the book thrust out from his chest as though he couldn't bear to look at it. "I'm so sorry I wrecked your book," he'd said.

"It's just a page," I'd said. "It happens."

I couldn't understand how he could be this upset over something so easily fixed. All the little details added up all day, and I didn't put them together until bedtime, when he handed me that earmarked page and asked me to read it to him.

Again, I refuse to be a series spoiler. I will only say this: it was in this scene that the merpeople sang in grief, the centaurs shot a tribute of arrows into a weeping sky, and Harry would never be the same again. And if you have read the series, and you are a fan, you will never be the same again, either.

Side by side, Joey and I read, my voice filling the air with the sad words of the book in front of us. My voice became thick and my cheeks were wet. I have learned not to be embarrassed by my emotions in front of Joey; he completely understands (both the emotionalness of a moment and of his crazy mom). I read as long as I could, and then set the book down. I looked at Joey.

Unlike me, his eyes were dry. I asked, "Joey, does it make you sad?"

He said, "Yes...."


"But it doesn't make me cry."

I understood this immediately. After reading chapter one of The Sorcerer's Stone, and later, a chapter called "The Mirror of Erised," Joey had cried late into the night, calling me to his room several times. It was in these chapters, early in the series, that Joey had been tortured by the idea of a little boy losing his  mother and father. That he had empathized with--because he most values the love of his family. But while he is able to comprehend the later story, he cannot relate to such grief.

I said, "No, Joey. But it makes me feel good. It means nothing truly terrible has happened in your life, and so you can't really feel how much things like this can hurt."

Joey knew what I meant right away. He climbed into his bed, shifting his bottom down so his head could rest on his pillow. I pulled his Batman comforter up to his chin and straightened it on one side so it covered him evenly.

"What would happen if they asked me at school to name the worst thing that ever happened to me?" he asked, a bit of worry in his voice. "I wouldn't be able to. The worst thing ever is when you're mad at me."

My heart hurt a bit at this, and then I grimaced, imagining that if he said that out loud at school, adults who didn't know me might think me being mad at Joey was something far worse than what it actually is: a little boy who has not known anything bad in his life.

But more than that, I felt grateful. Every parent wants to protect a child from the bad things in the world, and so far I have been quite lucky. So I kissed his forehead firmly and said, "No one would ever ask you to do that at school. And it is much more important to be a person who spends time thinking about good things than a person who wastes time thinking of bad things."

Joey smiled then. "That would be a hard question to answer, too," he said. "I could never pick the best thing that ever happened to me. There's just too many good things."

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