My nine-year old son is growing so fast, but is still so touching in his vulnerability. He read through the first Harry Potter with gusto, a couple of months ago, comparing the film unfavourably with the book and indignant that several of the quidditch matches had been left out of the film. He launched confidently into the second book only to be brought up short by the scary bits - the malevolent voice that only Harry could hear, echoing sibilantly around the school corridors.
Very maturely he decided not to read any more until he was older, as he suffers too often from nightmares, which in the past have been caused by Bruce the Shark in Finding Nemo, the wolves in a storybook and wolves and darkness in general. Today, two months later, he decided he was now old enough to have another go at Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Immersed in the book for the afternoon until the bitter end, he suffered no ill effects, but just now he emerged silently from the bedroom and dragged his father back with him to sit by his bedside and ward off those scary thoughts.
This is the same boy who has just endured a dentist visit with stoicism, having had casts taken of his teeth and adjusted to wearing a plate to straighten his skewed front tooth. He confidently played his recorder in a duet in the school concert yesterday and took part in his class performance of an Irish dance, 'even though the side skip was a bit embarrassing'.
Inspired by his The Science and History Project Book he has also decided to form a club, with badges and everything. The criteria for becoming a member is that you have to be nine, so he is currently the only member, but is preparing for two years' time when his next sister and Ryan, our farm worker's son, will be nine and can join. After his dentist's appointment he asked to go to the wool shop and he spent some of his pocket money on enough felt to make a cowboy hat from a pattern in the book. With his aunt's help to make the pattern and cut out the felt, he has already diligently started to sew the first hat. He is planning on making four, one for each of the future club members, even though Youngest won't be nine for another four years. They will have letters sewn on to the crown with the club name.
In the half hour it has taken to write this I can still hear voices from the children's bedroom, as my husband tries to read him something light and fluffy enough to dispel the dark images that have taken root in his imagination. It clutches at my heart to see him wrestling with those demons, his sensitive and fertile brain that just can't shrug off the disturbing things that other kids seem to process with equanimity.
Every dark scene in Disney's library has been a challenge, faced with finger on the fast forward button, bit by bit looked at, as with repetition the scariness is dulled and the whole movie can be watched uncensored. It took two years for The Little Mermaid to be watched in its entirety, those dark scenes with Ursula the octopus Sea Witch needing closed eyes even while fast forwarding, and it is my son, the oldest, who is the barometer of fright factor. If he can watch it then it'll be fine for the younger girls too. It's a rare scene that has one of them asking to fast forward before he does.
There is little that I can do to help him with this part of his life challenge. I can, and do, censor television viewing (for some reason Animal Planet and all the violence and rawness of the animal kingdom bother him not a bit), I can reassure that the dark outside is friendly and that we're safe and cosy inside, that he has an angel looking out for him, but I can't protect him from his own thoughts, that is his own hard road to travel.
For sure though, the rest of the Harry Potters, with their soul-sucking Dementors, will stay on a high shelf for the next few years.