Sunday, November 28, 2010


It's the last night before Chris and Nick go back to college. Meg and I have had a nice Thanksgiving weekend with them, but I, ever the pitiful sentimentalist, am looking for one more night of family time. I’m scrolling through the movie catalogue with Nick, who, like me, not only will watch just about anything but actually likes romantic comedies and English period films, but I’m not seeing anything I think I can sell to Chris. And then I remember “How to Train Your Dragon.”

We had all gone out to Best Buy that afternoon to browse electronic toys. Even Meg likes to do that. Chris and I were wandering among the video graphics cards, thinking about our Christmas lists, when we came upon the television section and were drawn in by the amazing beauty of some of the big screens. One of the nicest was set up with a sound system in a kind of faux home-theatre grouping. We sank into the pair of leather club chair and watched ten minutes or so of “How to Train Your Dragon,” with Chris, who will be twenty-one in a month, smiling like a young boy as he explained to me what was going on (he had already seen the movie).

Fantasy days
Over the holiday weekend, at dinners and lunches, over Scrabble, sitting around late in the evening, we had talked about so many things, so enjoyably, and yet, like an addict, I’m always left wanting more. We talk about politics and public policy; we talk about what they are studying in college, what they are looking forward to learning. But while I can get tidbits about dorm food and a little about friends, its hard to know as much about their personal lives as I used to: who they’re hanging out with, whether they have their eyes on a girl, all the stuff that boys seem to clam up about as they get older. When it comes to the juicy stuff (the things Elizabeth Bennett and her sister Jane talked about so freely), the most I can ever get from Chris or Nick these days is “it’s complicated.”

I’m sure Chris and Nick would say I know way more about them than I need to, but still there is an umbilical that connects the family when kids are young that doesn’t reach as far as a college campus. When we all sit in the family room and eat popcorn and watch a movie, it feels like I’ve hooked that life-support system back up.

As we watched that night, I wondered what they were thinking. Were they caught up in the magic the way I was, transported to that parallel universe where the skinny kid with the big heart can ride dragons? That’s the world we parents see for our children, right? We want to believe they can do anything; we want them to believe they can do anything.

I wonder whether the magic creeps into their sense of self and possibility. Do they come away from a movie like that feeling (if not exactly believing) that they to might be able to tame a dragon and fly him into their future?

There was this: the dragons in the movie were just like Frodo, our dog (except for the details involving flying and breathing fire). The boy hero related to his dragon pal the same way Chris and Nick relate to Frodo. That sort of makes the fantasy true, doesn’t it? Frodo could grow wings.

I’m not sure whether Chris and Nick like fantasy for the same reasons I do, whether it puts us all under the same spell, but stories like that, of hopes and dreams coming true with the help of a bit of magic, have been bringing us together since they were very young. And that night, before they left to go back out into their own strange new world, with its own kinds of dragons, for that two hours, nothing was complicated.

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