Ben is not a dabbler. He is not a generalist. He is a serial expert. His interests come in waves and they seem to engulf his brain completely.
Ben's current obsession is sword fighting.
Every day, for example, several times each day, we re-enact this scene from the 1938 Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood.
(This version has subtitles in French for some reason. We prefer our subtitles in English, at least for the moment. )
I play the Basil Rathbone role, plus any other characters. Ben is Errol Flynn of course.
But in our homegrown version, he's actually not Robin Hood, he's Ben. That's because every adventure story we act out is a chapter from "The Adventures of Ben," a mash-up of three different versions of Robin Hood, Star Wars, and an obscure animated version of Babar.
In the Adventures of Ben, Ben the hero fights the villain, Rex. Rex has a host of nameless henchmen. "Chris" and "Christa" are Ben's loyal compatriots (loosely based on Little John and Will Scarlet). Sometimes there is a wise master who dies midway through the story and talks to Ben as an invisible spirit. This character is based on Obi Wan Kenobi, but is always named, "Martin" after Martin Luther King, Jr.
Side note: One outcome of an Oakland public school education and no solid theology at home is that you pretty much grow up assuming Martin Luther King, Jr. is God.
I can't begin to describe how tired I am of sword fighting and light sabers, of prison rescues and storm troopers, of the same scenes over and over again. But I can't pretend I didn't play a part in encouraging this.
It starts out as something that seems like a positive - even a breakthrough. Maybe it's inspiring imaginative play or creativity, maybe it's something that connects your child to other kids and gives him an age-appropriate conversation topic. Maybe it's just different than the current obsession. ("Great! Something other than trains!")
You start to reinforce it. You start to help him explore it because you love seeing him excited and engaged in something new.
Pretty soon it takes over. Pretty soon it starts to seem less like an interest that connects him to others and more like another perseverative ritual that gets in the way of real interaction.
You wait to see if it will burn out, or just come and go over time.
But this particular obsession, unlike trains, is focused almost exclusively on fighting. If all he's thinking about is defeating evil, does he take that combative mindset to school?
Based on an increase in incidents with other kids at school over the last few weeks, my sense is that it does.
Kids have to explore conflict as they grow up, and I know that boys tend to do that physically. I get that. I'm okay with that.
But how well is Ben able to detach from the emotions of the pretend story? After all, Ben and kids like him are not exactly Jedi masters of their own emotions.
I wonder if the aggression he acts out in the story continues to reverberate around his brain, like an echo. And does his body respond to those mere echoes as real?
So I've started to explore distractions and alternatives. I'm thinking about better ways to set limits without turning the obsession into the even more attractive forbidden obsession. I'm trying to find ways to talk about pretend versus real life.
And so far, it's all been pretty unsuccessful.
If you have any ideas, let me know. I'll either be on the Death Star or in my foreboding castle, with my sword and light saber, and my army of henchmen and storm troopers.
Feel free to drop by anytime.