The inner child

Big poster25 years ago today, the fantasy-comedy movie ‘Big’ starring Tom Hanks premiered in the UK. Even now, it’s a reminder to me as a father that we should encourage our kids to hold on to their child-like qualities even after they’ve grown up.

The film, about a 12-year-old boy who wishes to be big and wakes up the following morning in the body of a 30-year-old man, is notable for a number of reasons. It was the first film with a female director to take $100m at the US box office. It’s one of a small number of PG-certified movies to include the word ‘f***’. And it also contains a memorable scene which even those who have never seen the film will probably be familiar with: Hanks and Robert Loggia dancing on the walking piano in the toy store FAO Schwarz to the tune of first Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Heart and Soul’ and then ‘Chopsticks’.

It’s a scene as well-known to film fans as a man with a bull-whip and a fedora running from a giant boulder. Or a group of kids pedalling flying bikes. Or a silver De Lorean reaching 88mph. Or a giant Stay-Puft marshmallow man. Or a naval officer in dress-whites sweeping a factory worker off her feet. Or a woman in the middle of a deli demonstrating how women fake orgasms.*

Keeping the inner child alive

The moral heart of the film is that the ability to think creatively like a child and view the world through their less cynical eyes are qualities which are both rare and valuable in a grown-up world where we are conditioned to put such childish thoughts aside.

We live in a competitive, metric-driven world. Five-year-old children are routinely tested and the pressure to perform academically for both the child’s and the school’s benefit is forever increasing. How do we ensure our kids still have the time to be kids?

From Isaac’s test results and parents’ evening, we know that he’s advanced for his age. It would be easy for us to push him on academically, not least because he is such an eager student. But both Heather and I are determined to follow a balanced path. As I’ve written before, his happiness takes priority over his grades. And while we’ll always support him to be the best student he can be, I don’t want to be that parent who drives their child in an overbearing rather than nurturing fashion.

In the meantime, I’m delighted that his innate curiosity is providing the self-motivation to explore his world. I don’t feel the need to concentrate on pushing him up to the next level of reading books or set some other target for him.

It’s hard sometimes, though. I want the best for him, and I know that a good education will help maximise his chances. But a little part of me will jump for joy the day he asks me to play football in the garden rather than settling down to do his homework right away.

There’s plenty of time for him to grow up later. He’ll only have one childhood, and I want him to enjoy his to the full and hopefully carry a piece of that inner child with him forever, even when he is Big.

* Those iconic film scenes, in order: Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, An Officer and a Gentleman, When Harry Met Sally.