The boy lies in bed with the big green muscled man. Big and Green is not radioactive but stuck with a permanent, sewn-on sneer on his plushie face. The boy gets little red marks on his back and arms from falling asleep on top of some of the plastic, mini-versions of Big and Green, his Red and Black Webbed friend, and the (less-muscled but still costumed) raven-haired Lady of Wonder. The boy hurriedly tells his nanny about dreams he has about the “Coop a Ca Bra,” and how the talking dog and his stoner rock companion chased this monster out of his bedroom. He is two and a half years old, and has a collection of comics, books, and toys that some middle-aged folk might be jealous of.
It could be worse. His parents could have introduced him to something awful, like Catholicism or Muppet Babies.
I am the babysitter/part-time nanny of the son of two of my best friends. As a fair-weather fan of things Superhero(ine), I was mostly prepared for the onslaught of character-based products that was sure to infiltrate their house, and my life, as this boy got older. The groupings that happen on a casual basis in the living room these days are like a diversity festival on a college campus circa 1993 mixed with a Cronenberg medical thriller gone wrong. For example, Spiderman’s head, long-since separated from his rigid plastic body, shoved onto the ends of two 1960s-era Fischer Price Little People. The new creature, wobbley as s/he is plastic, crouches, in a way, on top of a pile of Happy Meal Batmans plucked out of one of those big bags of plastic toys that one can buy at the thrift store for $1.50 (a tip – empty the entire contents of the bag into a pot of boiling water and sterilize before playtime).
My excitement at the fantastic storylines that babble out of my young charge as he creates and re-creates new heroes and creatures is tempered by my own problems, namely, my Mr. Peabody-esque, know-it-all tendencies. His parents, in contrast, are pretty low-key about most things. Much of his Incredible Hulk collection was passed down from his Uncle Terry in Canada, and there’s a lot of stuff that is handmade, well-loved, unique, and at this point, mostly ignored by the boy in favor of dirt and rocks outside in the yard. The parents have a playful attitude in general, and have helped him decorate his room with a mixture of recent DC Comics propaganda posters picked up at a ComiCon (and advertising some Superman/Wonder Woman series that none of us, including the boy, really give a crap about), whiteboard walls filled with drawings and messages from his many relatives and admirers, and handmade Hulk posters that he has improved with his own drawings. Their own living room is filled with books and its own collection of esoteric weirdness (a series of posters tacked to one wall that all came with various albums – including a scantily clad Prince that I’m unsure the boy will ever notice, even when he gets older and perhaps becomes a Prince fan), and there doesn’t seem to be an aesthetic boundary between one room or the other. His toys resemble their toys. His place is their place.
In short, the entire house is a fun place to be, and I can only imagine that it is one of the best possible situations that a kid could have. Hopefully the boy’s memories of childhood will include hanging out and watching movies in the backyard, playing records with his many faux-aunts (myself included), and devouring stacks and stacks of books, comic or not.
Returning to my problem, my know-it-all itchiness – I find myself constantly correcting when I should be embracing. I hem and haw over sharing old, racier issues of Black Canary, rapidly pointing out the feminist nature of her affairs/relationships while old Prudey Aunt is really thinking “His breast fetish is starting now, at 2 ½, and I’m contributing to it.” I get frustrated, silently, when watching the new Scooby Doo episodes that he has recently learned to cherish. Velma and Daphne are cooler than they used to be, and the writing is sarcastic enough to tolerate, but the animation and even the plotlines (!) lack a certain clunkiness that I crave in my talking dog mysteries.
I know the kid is at a very early stage, and that next year, he may drop the mainstream-cartoon-worship in favor of walruses or stacking things into towers and then knocking them over. Actually, he likes both of those things now. As a caretaker, faux-aunt, and provider of at least 5% of this boy’s introductions to comics, culture, music, and the arts, how can I silence my critic, enhance the childhood he has rather than try to complete my own long-gone childhood, and learn to grin and bear it as he inevitably discovers The Flash or some equally ridiculous capitalist fantasy? Hooded U. parents/caretakers/guardians, what say you?