As their dad and uncle did before them, my preschool grandsons are going through a super hero phase. They flick their capes back, adjust their masks and thump up and down the corridor calling out heroic statements to each other and to the world in general. Their cat, Moocher, looks on in amazement before getting back to his grooming regimen. When forced to, E and J reluctantly stop for a cheese and cracker break or an avocado and Vegemite sandwich. Only briefly, because in my darlings’ small world, adventures abound and they’re keen not to miss a moment.
When it comes to role models, their dad will occasionally prove himself a hero but he doesn’t wear the all-important cape. I have therefore scoured the local library for heroic role models only to discover a handful of 60 to 75-year-old comic characters lurking in the shadows. The poor things are hoping for a rest. They feel they’ve done their bit for truth and justice, but the toddler and preschool set won’t leave them alone. Batman, Superman and Spidey (who has no cape, but he does have a cool costume) are doomed to super hero-dem forever. There is no one available to take up the baton.
Even if they did have the energy to keep it up they’re finding that the traditional family unit is fading fast and the world is telling them it has no use for male role models. But Spidey knows that even though the goal posts are constantly moving along life’s journey, men will be boys and all boys need a hero that they can relate to.
Since no one has filled them in on political correctness, my grandsons feel free to let their imaginations roam. E and his younger brother, J, (for all the obvious reasons I call him shadow) are now taking an interest in knights and chivalry. J has a pink horse and E has a golden horse, so they tell me. The horses are magic and the knights are brave. E and his shadow rescue the fair princess B (their mother) from a dragon that is planning to fricassee her for lunch. Their story becomes more complex and interesting with each retelling. There are swords and shields involved and picnic baskets the size of Mary Poppins’ magic travel bag jam packed with favourite foods, mostly desserts. They sit under shady trees gormandising the fairy bread and chocolate sandwiches while discussing the next adventure.
Such fun. And no one around to tell them that knights and chivalry are as outdated notions in the 21st century as ladies and the gentlemen who rescue them. And when I notice the inconsistencies I realise that there are too many mixed messages and I wouldn’t know where to start.
Perhaps one day the adult E and J’s independent and empowered female partners will feel comfortable paying for their meals. (No strings attached, of course.) And perhaps E and J will stay home and raise the children and become another kind of superhero.
Chivalry has been described as ‘the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, namely courage, honour, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.’ Sounds like a good working plan to me. I think that all human beings can aspire to it (not just knights).
Who knows? On my less cynical days I feel quite confident that it’s at least a possibility. I hope to be there to see it. In the meantime, I can only be thankful that E and J have lost interest in pirates. I haven’t the heart to tell them that they are not nice people.