Saturday, 24 March 2012

It ain't easy being eight

My eight-year-old son LOVES Harry Potter. Over the past couple of months he has devoured the entire series of books. He lies in his bed immersed in the world of spells and curses late into the night and he wakes, bleary-eyed the next day only to instantly turn to the next page.

If he had been born a decade earlier I know he would have insisted on being amongst the crowds who dressed up in black robes, round specs and pencilled lightening bolts onto their foreheads, to camp outside book shops waiting for the latest installment.

He has watched every movie numerous times, had a Potter-themed birthday party where we festooned a local hall with Gryffindor banners and my other half made the brave sacrifice of dressing up as Dumbledore to entertain the troops of small party guests.

We have visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando where we queued in tropical heat to fly the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts and I ran across the entire park to buy him the Potter T-shirt he wanted before the place closed. My reward for this sporting feat (those theme parks aren't small) is that he hasn't really taken it off since.

We have been devoted Potter parents. We chose to holiday in Northumberland last year just so we could take him to Alnwick Castle which inspired Hogwarts and was used in some of the filming. He  was entertained by being taught how to fly on a broom and was shown every spot where his hero had stood.

We even endured a third-rate Harry Potter tour of London, which involved a tortuous two-hours of being wittered at by a clueless girl who knew less about boy wizard than most of the people on the tour. It's not good when your then seven-year old son has to correct details expounded by the tour leader.

In short my boy is a super fan, which is why when I got invited to a press preview day a the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour I knew he would be thrilled. Of course what I had forgotten when I broke the news is that he is eight.

Now had I told him when he was seven, or six, or indeed any age when he could articulate a reaction before he turned eight, he would have jumped up and down for joy. His delight would have been writ large across his smiling features and I would have basked in his unadulterated pleasure at the news.

But my boy is eight. So this child who has lived and breathed all things Potter for years greeted the news that I had managed to swing a preview visit to the latest shrine to JK Rowling's creation, with a muted smile and a grunted 'Good'. I had to tell myself firmly that this is his pre-teen way of showing excitement, but I did feel a bit deflated. My 36-year-old husband was more thrilled by the news that he could come along too.

The trouble is that I thought I had a few more years of my sunny little boy, before he morphed into Kevin the Teenager. Admittedly he isn't yet declaring 'I hate you', but I now know it's only a matter of time. He is sulky, moody, emotional and it's hard work keeping up.

During the tour I stood at the entrance to Daigon Alley, which is pretty spectacular, waiting impatiently to see his reaction. This is the boy who once chased excitedly through the streets of London while we searched for the entrance to this mythical street. Who tapped at bricks to see if they would shift and magically transport him into the street where Harry was kitted out for Hogwarts.

I was bouncing around, thrilled to be able to show him such a treat. I kept calling him to come and look, while he stubbornly insisted on dawdling over the preceding exhibits. Eventually he shuffled up, took one look and said 'Yeah it's great'. Not the wide-eyed wonder I'd been expecting.

Still I have to remind myself of my own youth and how much of a badge of honour it was to maintain this carapace of cool in all interactions with adults, who after all are irretrievably sad and know less than nothing. I must not take it personally has become my mantra as he bursts bubbles of parental enthusiasm with such aplomb.

Fortunately the day was not an entire washout as when he stepped into the house-sized room which holds an awe inspiring scale model of Hogwarts I noticed that his eyes were shining with tears. 'What's wrong?' I ask. 'Hogwarts isn't real', he sobs. 'But I thought you knew it wasn't real', I reply. 'Yes, but it was the only home Harry ever knew', he cried. Heartbroken for his fictional hero and for the shattering of his half held illusions.

I held my boy tight in my arms and reassured him that Hogwarts was just as real as Harry within the pages of the books, and remembered that underneath all that teenage-style attitude he is still my sweet, sensitive little boy.

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