To Finn, my now seven-year-old boy:
It’s becoming more and more of a challenge to pin down who you are in words. You’ve long been your own person with your own definite character, yet you continue to evolve into someone more indefinable and complex each day. One thing I can say for certain, however, is that this year, for the first time, the epic world of fiction and fantasy rival fact.
You’ve always been obsessed with information: at age three you absorbed whatever you could about the bizarrely-lit ocean animals of the midnight zone; at four you studied black holes, the sulfuric acid on Venus, and the dwarf planets; at five and six you read and talked (incessantly) about prehistoric swimming reptiles, sauropods of the Mesozoic Era, the measurements of the newly discovered Dreadnoughtus, and the possibility of cloning a mammoth from frozen DNA.
And then came Giganotolestes, a four-foot-long insect with lightning-bolt antennae. You designed it for a kindergarten assignment, started to ponder where it came from, and crafted in your mind the fictional Planet Wacodoodle, a gigantic watery world twice the size of our sun. On Planet Wacodoodle, the Giganotolestes resides in the swamps, the Psybubble-fish-frog swims and walks on webbed feet along the coastlines, and the Massotops, a creature of the deep, satisfies its more complex requirements with a head on each end of its body – one that uses an angler-fish-style light to hunt in the dark seas, and the other that just gets to play and relax.
The Massotops you created was like you in some ways – pulled in different directions, adapting to new surroundings. As a new elementary student, you had to figure out how to define yourself at home and at school, how to balance work and play, how to transition from the old to the new.
The new was filled with its own creatures of the dark, outside both your science books and your own imagination – creatures that waited in the hallways of your school, poised for attack: creatures of the Pokémon world. I resisted them at home, just as I have with all heavily marketed characters that brainwash kids with their products. I disliked the context of battle that governed the Pokémon existence and abhorred the fact that humans used animals to fight on their behalf. But I watched how, as you struggled to find your place among the other kids, you longed to connect with what other boys were doing, and I saw how intrigued you were by the evolutionary principals operating this new universe. Just as you had memorized the different characteristics and classifiable types of all of the dinosaurs, you studied the specific attributes and families of the Pokémon. You considered their strengths and weaknesses, categorized them, drew them, wrote about them. They came alive for you. That’s when I, your human mom, lost the battle against Pikachu and every other Pokémon. My influence – or as you would say, my HP – was just not strong enough to keep them away.
Still, I’m happy to say that our parental restrictions did encourage some creative redirection. You adapted by inventing Poké-inspired creations such as “Dino Clash,” your own role-playing card game and book series in which Triceratops EX battles with a charge attack, Gorgonops XY combats with its signature hopeless howl, and Mega-Iguanodon EX strikes using a thumb spike attack.
And when dinosaurs aren’t battling, salt can battle pepper, or broccoli can battle bananas in my personal favorite Finn-created universe, “Food Fight.” In the ever-expanding Food Fight world, the current card with the highest HP is PB&J EX, a stage 2 card that has evolved what you call a “sticky me” attack that paralyzes its opponent by trapping it in peanut butter.
I’ve fought throughout your life to shield you from violence and to avoid presenting things in terms of absolutes like “good guys vs. bad guys” or “us vs. them.” We shut off the TV and cancelled cable when you were a baby and pushed science instead of superheroes ever since. We’ve never wanted you to see the world so simply.
But it’s true that outside of fictional realms there are real-life battles on planet Earth – battles we engage in against others and against ourselves. There are battles of the heart, like the one you recently lost when you stormed off the soccer field in tears and quit the game because your team was losing; there are battles of principle, like the one you recently won when you stood up to a 4th grade bully in the new world of bus-riders – fighting back not with a thumb-spike attack, but with your first-grader mouth as you defended yourself and your cousins and then went to adults for help. And of course there are those battles of the brain we keep encouraging you to face, like going beyond broccoli to discover that grapes and strawberries won’t hurt you, or learning how to let go of the fear that keeps you from dancing the “whip and nae nae” with all of your friends.
You’ll always face challenges, Finch, some more serious than others. That’s part of what it means to be alive, regardless what species – human, hadrosaur, mouse Pokémon, fire-breathing dragon, Vermicious Knid, or two-headed Massotops. But whether on planet Earth or planet Wacodoodle, you’ll create your own ways to adapt.
I love you – in any place and at every stage of your evolution.