Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To Tell Or Not To Tell, That Is The Question

It's an evening like any other in late November, except that, unbeknown to me at the onset, the shattering of an ancient myth looms just over the horizon.

As I tuck her into bed and bend to kiss her forehead, she says, “You know what, Grandma?” I'm going to ask Santa for a special toy you can't find in a store, or anywhere else!”

Whoops! I think.  She's out to test the Santa thing!    

“So then, “ I ask “how can he bring it to you on Christmas morning if it can't be found anywhere at all?”

“Did you ever hear of ELVES?” she asks, giving me a look that makes me feel like a veritable pin head..  “He'll get his elves to make it for me.  I mean, that's what he does, isn't it? ”

Alas! I think, now conscious of the historic denouement that inevitably will unfold.  Do I tell her here and now?  Probably not – not my place to shatter the myth.  Do I mention anything to her parents?  Probably not – lest it tarnish the special bond she and I share.  I decide that silence is the better part of valor.  I am not looking forward to Christmas morning and her coming of age, but it comes about sooner than I think.

Two days before Christmas ( I  guess because she simply can't wait any longer), in a quiet moment with her mother, she poses the age-old question.  “Mommy, tell me the truth.  Is there really a Santa Claus?”

Her mother confesses to me later that, put that way, what other answer could she give her?                     “No, Honey,” she says, I'm sorry – he's not really real.  Don't be too disappointed, Sweetie.  Just think of it as growing up a little.  You do that in many ways every day, you know.”

Poker-faced, the child makes no comment, none at all.  That same evening, though, when a toy commercial comes on TV, she belatedly reacts – with a response that must have smoldered in her young heart all that live-long day. 

“YOU FAKE!” she screams with uncharacteristic violence at the Santa depicted on the screen.  “YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A BIG, FAT FAKE!”

It's going to be a subdued Christmas this year.  I can just feel it. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Perchance To Dream

Later, remaking her bed, as she pulled up first the yellow thermal blanket, then the thin, pale-green quilt, and before pulling up and smoothing the faintly-tinted, cream-colored chenille spread, Kate remembered her dream.  She had slept with one “plug” in her right ear, and all night long had almost, but not quite, wakened to news or airwaves chatter – the innocuous talk show – talk, talk, talk, punctuated hourly with news and weather reports of the snow that apparently had been falling all night.    

The dream.  She smiled.  So vivid – the snow piled high behind her car.   The garage door had remained up, and snow had intruded steadily, patiently, hour upon hour.  But it was only a dream, for this house, unlike the one in which they had raised the children, had no garage.  Only a carport.  

Any time she remembered her dreams upon waking, she tried to fathom what they were revealing to her.  She didn't fully admit it to herself, but she believed in them.  Now she pondered the possible meaning of last night's dream.  Was it that the snow piled high against her car deprived her of her wheels?   Mobility, she thought.  It denies me mobility.  Without use of my car, what happens to my freedom? Why, it’s nowhere!  Yes, that’s the dream's significance.  I must insist on my freedom from now on – freedom to do what I want for a change – not cater to the whims of my family!   There's not all that much time left ahead of me to do what I want.  I must begin now, before it's too late.  Yes, that’s the message in the dream.

Then she remembered that in the dream Daisy, their Boston terrier came bounding over the piled snow and into the cold outdoors.  Was Daisy, too, in symbolic concept, heralding freedom?  Or was she, even in Kate’s subconscious, merely trying to fulfill her canine raison d’etre – that of keeping them, her masters, safe and free of  intruders in their yard?  Was it to further emphasize the freedom lesson, or merely the dream’s valid portrayal of Daisy’s instinct -- to chase deer and all other manner of threat from the yard, the domain she had been born to keep safe for her masters.

Kate “saw” herself as she was then, in last night's subconscious world – standing  outdoors, behind her Toyota, barefoot in the snow.  Although in her dream, a  chill breath of winter wind fluttered her flannel nightgown, she remembered she had felt no cold.   

Nothing had seemed to bother her.  She wanted to carry that feeling now into her daily life – no more fretting about everything.   

And as for that other one, her sister ... if she wasn't happy in the retirement home, at least there she was safe, and Kate was going to worry about it no longer.  The dream seemed to clarify everything.  At least for the moment.   

Tomorrow might prove to be otherwise.

Art Form

The mother bent over to look at the images her young son, sprawled on the parlor floor, was putting on paper.  Tears welled in her eyes.  She turned to her husband.  “Do you suppose,” she asked, and then hesitated to clear the lump in her throat.  “Do you suppose,” she said again, “that the midwife could have switched babies on us?  Do you suppose she could have taken our brilliant offspring to raise as her own and in those moments of emotion and confusion at the birthing substituted another baby to leave with us?”

El Senior P______, the husband, snorted.  “Impossible!” he shouted. “ Look, how he has my face, my round head!  Look how he has my hands, long, slim.  Why, put a mustache on him, Woman,  and he a pequeĊˆo personification of me!  I never again want to hear you say such a thing!”

Pablo, the subject of the father's outburst, looked up from his drawing.  Every time I draw, he thought, she cries, and he shouts at her.

The mother picked up the son's drawing.  “Look, Pablo, dear,” she said, softly placing a hand on his little shoulder, “you have made nothing but lines on your paper.  Wide lines, narrow lines.  Long lines.  Short lines....”  A deep sigh trembled in her throat as she spoke.  “Oh, Pablo, my dearest little boy, what in the name of heaven is it that you are drawing?”

She's not very smart, , he thought.  Always, she asks me to explain my work, and never does she understand.  

“Well,” he said, pointing to a pair of wide long lines on the paper and trying hard not to show in his voice the impatience he felt, “this is Pappa.”  

He pointed to a pair of shorter, narrower lines.  “This is Mamma.” 

Finally, with his finger on a pair of  short stumps of  lines, he said, “And this is Pablo. Now do you see,  my mamma?”

From his position, lying on his stomach on the floor, Pablo stretched his neck to look up at his parents.  He saw the two medium-sized, skinny sticks which were his mother's legs move closer to the thick, long sticks belonging to his father.  He heard her sob.

Grown-ups!” he thought.  But enough about them!  I have to hurry and finish this picture before I forget my ideas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Boy and the Bear

The boy's father had put a stuffed toy, a panda bear, in the hospital crib just an hour after the boy was born, and from then on boy and bear were almost inseparable.  That panda bear, being Chinese, was wise with the knowledge of ancient centuries, and because the two of them, boy and bear, had so loving a relationship, Panda let the boy in on many facts and mysteries of the universe.  Or so the boy said later.  

Panda was fluffy and fat, his white fur clean as snow, and his soft black fur shiny as patent-leather shoes.  That is to say he was fluffy and fat at the onset, before the wear and tear of  the boy's love  flattened and thinned him somewhat.  The red ribbon around his neck and tied in a bow under his chin often came undone as boy and bear started off in life together.  For a while, the boy's mother would retie the ribbon on Panda when she found it lying in the crib, but eventually she gave up and just put it away for safe keeping.  She knew even then that Panda was a family member, and that his baby things had to be saved, just as she later saved the boy's first little pair of soft, white shoes. 

The bear had a tiny music box hidden under his fur, and at the least pressure on his stomach he would play a repertoire of tinkly tunes.  If the boy should waken in the dark of night and roll over on Panda, the bear would lull him back to sleep with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star  or Old MacDonald  Had A Farm or Mary Had a Little Lamb, the strains of which often filled the nursery air.  It wasn't long before the boy learned, when he was bored or scared or angry or hungry, to hug Panda against him.  Then Panda would play his music and make the world right again.  The boy also soon learned to rub the little bear's tiny soft ear against his cheek to give himself a drowsy feeling.  Before long, in symbiotic love and friendship, the boy could not sleep at all unless the bear was in the crib with him.  

What with the music and with the constant interaction between them, boy and bear managed on less sleep than required by most human babies and their stuffed-toy companions.  By the time the boy was a toddler, his mother was convinced she was raising an insomniac.  In desperation one night, about eleven o'clock, she knelt beside the boy's youth bed.  “Will you PLEASE go to sleep!” she said.

The boy patted her face.  “Don't cry, Mommy,” he said.  “The TVs in my head are just starting to turn off.  Panda can't sleep until they all shut down, but it won't be long now.”

One day, about the time the boy was just barely four, he and his grandmother and Panda were in the grandmother's walk-in-closet.  They were pretending to be prisoners of the boy's mother.  It was one of the boy's favorite games.  The mother slipped a ransom note under the closet door, for that was how the game was played.  The boy's grandmother bent to pick up the note, but the boy took it from her hand and looked at it, his eyes moving from left to right across the paper.

“Write out the next note in print characters,” the boy's grandmother whispered from behind the door to the boy's mother.  “I think he's trying to read it.” 

Soon, under the door appeared a second note, this one hand-printed:  If you can read this, you are really smart.  The boy's grandmother handed the paper to the boy, who looked at it intently for a moment and then said, “Well, then I guess I must be smart.”

“He's reading!  He's reading!” the boy's grandmother shouted, flinging open the  closet door.  And then the two grown-ups went a little crazy and jumped around and talked all at once and took turns hugging the boy again and again.  The boy bore it all with quiet grace. 

Later that afternoon, the boy's grandmother said, “It's really wonderful that you taught yourself to read.  How in the world did you do it?”

“Panda taught me,” the boy said.

The grandmother smiled.  “But how?” she asked.

“Well,” the boy explained, “one day Panda showed me a word and told me to sound it out.  So I sounded it out aloud – oak-see-gin.  But Panda told me I could do better than that, to look at the word again and try real hard to sound it out.  So I looked at the word again and tried real hard, and then I saw that it was oxygen and then I knew how to read.”

“What a smart boy you are!” the boy's grandmother said.  “But how odd that Panda chose the word oxygen to teach you to read.  I would have thought he might have chosen an easier one, like cat, or table, or something like that.  I wonder why he picked oxygen?

“Because he's Panda,” the boy said.

“Well, that certainly explains it,” the boy's grandmother said.  “What a bear!”