January 26, 2011
“Put the dragon song on again Mom!” Zach yells as he rounds the corner and barrels into me, face flushed from the exertion of chasing his middle-aged mother around the house. I grab him around the waist and haul him upside down (an act I have the sneaking suspicion I will have to forego in the coming year or risk the need for physical therapy), briefly tickle him, and release him laughing to our welcoming couch. I know he’s referring to “Puff the Magic Dragon”, because we’ve heard it at least a thousand times recently, once we both discovered the book I’d bought a year ago had an accompanying CD “hidden” on the last page. I’m glad we have the written word as companion to the songs, as this experience would be totally depressing without that last illustration of Puff making a new friend. Over the last few days I’ve wondered if years ago I’d had the book along with the record, or if I had completely glossed over little Jackie Paper’s defection with the cruel indifference of childhood. Without this last page, I would now find this story’s conclusion as devastating as the one from Toy Story Three.
We all know how well I fared with THAT ending.
I’ve discovered once again how to use our ridiculously intricate stereo system (in my defense there are multiple components, as clearly one should only ever listen to Loverboy on vinyl), and I quickly slip in the CD and crank the volume as loudly as possible without alarming the neighbors. Zach turns to me, shoves Buzz, Woody, and “Baby Jessie” into my arms, and commands me to dance with them, as he grabs the fake baby he’s adopted and twirls around the room after me. This remains entertaining for approximately forty-seven seconds, after which he drops his faux infant on the floor and orders me to turn off the music, remembering, through his bossiness, to say “please”. I comply, turn to him, and say “what are we doing now, sweetie?”, and he looks up at me as he steps on his abandoned child’s face and says “tell me the story of Goodnight Coconut Pirate, Mom”.
Sure hon. It’s on the tip of my tongue.
I scramble around in my brain for the creativity I used to possess, that font of originality that seems to have disappeared along with my ability to remember where I put my keys, or how many carbs I’ve consumed in one day. He’s on a big pirate kick lately, and I’m certain the recent literary references to those swashbuckling buccaneers has triggered this need for a tale about them, but I’m not quite certain where the coconut part comes in. As it turns out, my husband is deathly allergic to them. Perhaps Zach is conjuring this up from the conversation his father and I had recently, the one where my spouse politely inquired if I was trying to kill him after he saw my often-ignored recipe book open to the page for coconut shrimp. Jeff and I are still adjusting to the fact we have to watch what we say around this particular child, as this one can actually repeat our conversations, apparently verbatim.
Yet another example of our fine parenting skills.
I scooch down onto the carpet with my back against the couch, gather the Toy Story posse around me, and throw a blanket around us to buy me some time. I figure if my rendition of GCP includes a sword fight, a tough lady pirate (no damsels in distress in this house), and an ending which includes grandma brownies and juice for the marauding invaders, we’ll be fine. I’ll just have to jazz it up a bit with some of my “special voices”, and make sure to keep the action going. Hey, he’s three. Stories don’t require the layered plotlines of a Lost episode (I know, another reference, but I’m still in mourning, bear with me).
I begin with my best “crazy pirate voice” (Disney will be knocking at my door any day now), and commence a captivating tale about a pirate who in a stunning coincidence has the same name as my youngest son, when Zach shoots up from his “snuggle position” and interrupts me. “Mom, and then the pirate Zachary rescues Justin from the bad pirates, and Goodnight Coconut pirate and his friends go home. The end!” I smile at his enthusiasm, ready to jump in with a new episode, but my son beats me to it. For the next five minutes he regales me with several different variations on a theme, all with the central character of our hero, “CP”, victorious in the end, with every adaptation including a variety of settings, dialogue, and characters. Granted, Coconut Pirate ends up in time out quite frequently, and the vast majority of his conversations end with one or another of the participants apologizing, but for the most part Zach does not infuse his life experiences within the chapters. They are completely original creations, totally unscripted from other stories.
He is using his imagination.
Over the past year-and-a-half the return of his language skills has been a source of constant wonderment to us (I’ve often said he should wear a sign on his chest stating “results not typical”), and his play skills have also kept up with his language acquisition. For the most part however, the skits he puts on with his toys, the scenarios he enacts with his creatures and figurines, have been extracted wholly from scenes he’s watched or had read to him dozens of times, his favored segments from Thomas the Train, Cars, or the Toy Story trilogy. I’ve been through them so many times I know exactly what to do and say now, would not dare to deviate from the appointed script, know I’ll be chastised if I do. “No Mommy, he doesn’t SAY THAT!” is a frequent refrain here, as I’ve tried desperately to infuse a bit of life into the same old story just to save my sanity. Zach hasn’t wanted me to orchestrate anything new, has actually been upset when I’ve tried. There have been no points for creativity in this house.
Eventually he tires of this new activity and wants me to read to him from “real books” again, and accompanies this request with a demand for juice and pretzels. I happily rise to placate him, mind spinning as I question whether that ancient tape recorder of mine still works, wondering if I can get him to repeat the last ten minutes another day so we can write these stories down, give them a permanent life of their own.
Hell, he’ll probably be published before I am.
I return with snack and liquids in tow, and as we sink into one another, close to our pile of beloved books, I tell him how proud I am of him. I tell him that we should write these stories down, that he’s an author now, just like the people whose names are written on the covers of his favorite tales. I remind him that just like books allow us to travel in our minds, a fact for which I am eternally grateful now that I’m generally restricted to the four walls of our house, writing enables us to make voyages as well, to set foot in places we’ve never seen, enjoy experiences we thought we’d never have. He smiles up at me, used to my ramblings, opens up The Grouchy Ladybug and says with a slight air of impatience “Just read Mom”. Spell broken, but the moment remains. My child has spun me a brand new story.
My son used his imagination today.