Tuesday, July 8, 2008

house flies and game shows

There is a housefly perched near my right knee, on the edge of a drawer filled with decorative ribbons and fibers.

Now it's gone.

Where is it? As much time as I spend convincing my son that most insects are not to be feared, or killed for no reason, I am unnerved by this fly. It's in my space. It vomits on anything it perceives to be edible. It walks in everything and licks its own feet. It has habits I don't agree with. It is likely to die between a window screen and a pane of glass, smelling freedom but hopelessly trapped, and they don't tend to live long anyway. Yet, I am against it.

H. has a series of books about "Fly Guy," a pet housefly with a human friend named Buzz and an understandable predilection for garbage heaps. Fly Guy is a pretty sympathetic character, actually, in that he is smaller than most living things and vulnerable to the bad opinion of others. While H. is still responsible for a high number of ant casualties around the place, he may have grown some tolerance for houseflies -- again, not sure how I feel about this on the practical scale, but we are trying to instill some respect for living things in our child. Squashing an ant doesn't merit a time-out or anything, the way hitting someone might, but we try to present the big picture: is that nice? Was the ant hurting you, or was it minding its own business? Do we know which things are alive, and what does that mean?

Lately, H. and the husband are hooked on a new TV program double-header on Tuesday nights: "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show." Both involve complicated games with teams and contestants who are required to complete an obstacle course or a difficult stunt. The rules are usually simple enough for my four-year-old to understand, and lately he has started identifying somewhat with the competitors: the young blond woman with the kind face ("Darcy") who must pedal a child's tricycle on a treadmill, keeping the trike moving forward as long as she can before she loses speed and is drawn backwards over the edge of the treadmill into a waiting pool of icewater. This same young woman is required to don a suit made of Velcro (like an old episode of Letterman) and fling herself at a wall where an outline of a person has been stenciled on the Velcro stucco; when she hits the wall, her body position must match the outline as closely as possible. With each turn the outline changes. Tonight she couldn't do this as well as the taller, slimmer girl, and was summarily booted from the show, carried off by a gang of Japanese guys dressed as yakuza. "Poor Darcy," says my son, though he's clearly entertained.

Somewhere out there is a place called Adulthood, a place we're steering him toward as best we can. A place where maybe you shouldn't kill the housefly, and maybe it's okay to laugh at the loser; but maybe these rules change from time to time, and you can't understand why until you get to know the players. Rules we keep learning, and unlearning, as we age.

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