You scared me to death! You scared Victoria to death. Next time you think you see a black widow spider, say, "Dad, I believe a poisonous insect is in the house," and I will calmly come and take care of it. You scream like that again and I'll kill you! --"Sam," Sleepless in Seattle
Recently, thinking about what has the greatest influence over the way I talk to my children, the conclusion I came to was a little bit strange. It's not early dialogues with my own mother. Nor is it the Holy Scriptures. My greatest influence is Sam, Tom Hanks' character in Sleepless in Seattle.
His general response to challenging parenting moments? Bombarding his child with adult phrases while his voice rises to a comedic pitch. Like, when his son is begging to fly cross country to meet a woman (Meg Ryan), who heard him on a radio show and thinks he might be her destiny: "There is no way we are getting on a plane to meet some woman who could be a crazy sick lunatic. Didn't you see Fatal Attraction?"
Like Sam, sometimes I find the bizarre, mischievous actions and capricious requests of my children to be more than I can respond to they way most parenting books would advise me. I simply can't come out with a placid, "Mommy asked you nicely to stop eating your boogers, dear," but instead find myself saying things more like, "If you don't stop eating your boogers I'm going to video tape you and save the tape to show to your first boyfriend!"
Really, parenting is one part exasperating and one part downright hilarious. (There are other parts as well.) And if I don't respond with some kind of humor and make myself laugh on the inside, I might cry, and it relieves me enormously to respond this way now and then. Fortunately, the girls take my semi-comedic rants rather well. They go right over Livie's head. Meanwhile, Sophia, who shares my love of wit and language, often starts laughing at me. This can sometimes be further exasperating, but I have no one to blame but myself.
When I really think about it, our entire family's communication is influenced largely by people like Nora Ephron and Andrew Stanton (who wrote about half of Pixar's movies). I've always had a penchant for memorizing dialogue (I can do a whole scene after watching it once if it was really funny). Jeff and I talk to each other in a code made up of Seinfeld lines and quotations from Nacho Libre (Jared Hess's sleeper follow-up hit after Napoleon Dynamite). The girls are heavily influenced by the funniest children's movie ever -- Despicable Me -- and often speak to each other in Minion.
Sophia picked up movie dialogue at an early age. When she was four years old, I asked her as I was putting her to bed one night, "Looking back sweetie, didn't that temper tantrum seem like you were overreacting just a little bit?" I swear her response was, "I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now," a quote from Edna Mode, fashion designer to the superheroes in The Incredibles.
Where am I going with this? I'm not exactly sure to tell you the truth. But I know Jesus said "Out of the heart the mouth speaks," so I'm wondering if maybe my family is watching too much television. I know my friend Tris would think so; the only movie her three year old son has ever seen is Cars, and I think he's only watched it twice. Good mommy!
On the other hand, most of the movies my family gets attached too have real heart (yes, even Nacho Libre), their general direction being one of love and joy. Recreating their dialogues give me and the kids an opportunity to process all kinds of conflicts and inspires great moral discussions (as great as you can have with children under the age of 8). If you talk to Biblical scholars, you'll learn that even Jesus taught using illustrations that were part of popular culture in his day, which is sort of the equivalent of talking movies with the kids. And it turns out, even sleepless Sam, who uses big no-no phrases like "I'll kill you" and "shut up" eventually turns out to be a dad who would do absolutely anything for his endearing, precocious child. See, no wonder I relate so much.