So, my husband [I know — you’re already thinking: Oh, this is gonna be a good one!], the idealistic and knowledgeable early childhood expert that he is, believes that it’s really important for us to facilitate a storytelling ability in our kids. I’m not against this at all. There are many Mel Levine neurodevelopmental constructs that flash through my brain as I consider this process: active working memory, temporal-sequential ordering, expressive language, higher order cognition…and other nonsense. [Cue: faculty meeting flashbacks…meaning: are there snacks?]
Even more importantly, this pursuit results in lots of comedy for us. [What’s he talking about? Where did he learn that word? Is anyone even listening to him anymore?] And it’s a cognitive puzzle as we try to follow the plot and character arcs to determine whether there’s an overarching theme or at least a nice, wholesome moral to each story.
And when it comes down to it, there is an overarching theme. And that theme is violence. Sometimes it’s an actual fight between two characters, other times it’s a race or a competition between two cars or planes or trains or trucks. Perhaps the late John Candy…? And there are always monsters. And spiders. And occasionally, ghosts.
[Total aside here…sometimes the things Nate tells me about monsters or bugs or ghosts are actually really creepy. I’m not big on horror films at all, but some of his descriptions just evoke the most terrifying images. Here’s a recent example. We were in the dining room a few weeks ago eating lunch. Nate, furiously digging his plastic peanut butter spoon — not to be confused with his metal yogurt spoon — into his peanut butter sandwich, glances up and points, “Look, Mom, a girl!” I whipped my head around, “There’s a girl in here? A girl?” “Yeah, right there.” I thought to myself: He sees a girl sitting in that chair in the corner?? Oh, my God. I noticed Wally slowly slinking out of the room, thus forfeiting himself any dropped crumbs.
Sam gave me a knowing look from his high chair. It was clear we were both thinking the same thing: Nate sees dead people.
I immediately imagined Nate chilling on the couch with Bruce Willis talking about dead people things, like Cybil Shepherd and Carl Winslow, what he really thinks about Ashton Kutcher, and what it’s like to be a Republican in Hollywood. Suddenly, I wanted to see dead people too. Nate has playdates with Bruce Willis. Die Hard style. What a badass.
But then I started to recall other scenes from the movie that is becoming Nate’s life. The gory corpses and accident scenes and those weakened and emaciated bodies from long battles with terminal illnesses. Suddenly I realized: Nate needs to be in counseling. But what therapist will believe him? And what do I tell the insurance company? Is this a pre-existing condition?
Perhaps he would be better off with a priest or an exorcist. Maybe an odyssey to the far East — to seek some relief and wisdom in Buddhism. Or Hinduism. Or Taoism. Or Shintoism. Or something. If nothing else, he’d return with some really cool vernacular expressions and newly piqued culinary interests. A few weeks with a shaman in a teepee in New Mexico might do the trick. Cheaper airfare anyway. Peyote anyone?
After a few more minutes of my gentle, probing questions about this girl in the corner, it became apparent that he’s actually referring to a squirrel, not a girl. There’d been a squirrel on a tree just outside the dining room window this whole time.
Oh, phew. Well, then. Feeling like Gilda Radner on Weekend Update… Never mind. Resume normal childhood.]
And back to his best seller… Here is an excerpt of a recent story he told me. I will add in my own commentary in brackets. Some of the plot doesn’t exactly…”carry” without it. Or with it for that matter.
Nate: Lemme tell ya a story, Mom. Once there was a girl named Nate.
Me: A girl named Nate? [No judgment, that’s cool. However you wanna live.]
Nate: No! A girl named Erin! And then…..[Really long pause. He has trouble getting inside the head of his female characters.]
Me: What did she do?
Nate: She had a son named Nate! [Narcissist, everything is about him.] One day there was just Nate and he heard a noise and it was a MONSTER! And then Nate was trying to fight the monster and then Dusty came!
Me: The airplane? [From the Disney movie “Planes.” Disney characters play prominent roles in most of his stories. I attribute his inability to create new characters to a lack of empathy. Also, to the fact that he’s three.]
Nate: Mmm-hmm. And then Ripslinger [Another “Planes” character] came to fight the monster and Dusty and Nate and Ripslinger were trying to fight the monster and then they won! [Run-on sentence, but I won’t judge him for that. Yet.] Mom, I’m gonna sit here and eat my breakfast. [I wonder what Harper Lee eats for breakfast. Probably something Southern and filling. With lots of protein and butter. We’ve all seen Paula Deen.]
Me (after a long pause): Ok, is that the end of the story?
Nate: Um, no. And then Bulldog came to fight the monster, too. And all their friends came to fight the monster, too! Me too.
Me: That poor monster, huh?
Nate: Yeah, [Sipping OJ and laughing maniacally] and then the monster started to fight and it was so funny [Still laughing…getting creepy] and then they started to laugh and again and again. [Pause…cereal break] And again.
Me: Why was it so funny?
Nate: Because…and then Wally [our dog] came.
Me: And what did Wally do?
Nate: Uh…Wally did…[Must look into possible ADD diagnosis tomorrow!] And my friends kept fighting again and again and again [Slightly alarming — the violence, I mean, not the repetitiveness. That might be age appropriate.]
Me: Is that the end of the story?
Nate: Huh? Mom, there’s a giant here. I should grab my sword and fight him. [Yes, he actually has a sword, made of foam, but still. Thanks to my brother, Tim. I have several pacifist friends who are cringing right now. Believe me, I get it — I’m the one who’s usually getting impaled.] Hee-ya [Swinging sword.]
Me: I wish you wouldn’t fight as much.
Nate: I did fight as much. I did. Because I love to fight much. [Increasingly alarming.] And I have to scare the monsters and the giants. [Lots of emphasis on the word ‘giants.’]
Me: Are we finished telling the story?
Nate: Not yet. And then I just burped. ‘Scuse me. And then I just burped. The end. [How poetic.]