Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Redemptive Imagination

The Papaya is obsessed with the Pixar Cars movie and all of the Cars characters. We have fed this obsession by buying him (or encouraging others to buy him) assorted characters from the movie in the form of die-cast vehicles and awarding them to him as airplane surprises, Christmas presents, etc. He also owns the DVD (Christmas, again), the soundtrack CD, a Cars calendar, a Lightning McQueen puzzle, Cars band-aids, toothbrush, and toothpaste, 3 books, various articles of clothing and Big Boy Underpants depicting characters from the movie.

The good thing about all of this is that it really helps feed the Papaya's creativity and imagination. He sees a lot of life though the lens of Cars; when he's taking a walk, he'll start running and pretend he's driving up to see a waterfall with Sally the Girl Car, or he'll start pushing me and pretend he's pushing The King over the finish line at his last race. He stays pretty observant when we go driving, in hopes of seeing a vehicle or scenery that reminds him of something from Cars. He'll pick out random objects around the house and put together a story with them (sometimes copying a scene from the movie, and sometimes making up his own story.) While there are probably more worthy and classic stories to obsess about, we generally like Pixar, the Cars storyline, and the fact that the movie takes place in a setting similar to where we live. The Papaya's small character vehicles are easy to transport and can hold him captive for hours in his car seat or on an airplane as he makes up different stories involving them. And it certainly beats out a Disney Princess fascination (no, Banana, do not fall prey to that, please)!

The unfortunate side of this obsession is when we try to interest or redirect Papaya to something else and fail because he's so caught up in a Cars imagining, or when his imagination gets the best of him and becomes more real than reality. The latter is what I had to deal with a couple nights ago, when Husband was working all night long at the hospital.

The scene from the Cars movie which most terrifies and fascinates the Papaya involves Lightning McQueen (the protagonist of the movie, a hot-shot race car) and Mater (an old tow truck) going tractor tipping at night. It's a hilarious scene, and ends with Frank, an enormous, angry combine mower, roaring with rage & chasing both mischief-makers out of his field. Red and backlit, Frank comes within inches of catching Lightning and Mater with his blades. Later on in the movie, Lightning has a nightmare in which Frank is racing with him (actually, chasing him). In his dream, Frank actually does catch (and "eat") a competing car.

The Papaya cannot stop talking about Frank. When we're taking a walk and I ask him to hurry up, he'll start running and yelling, "Frank is chasing me!" He wants to hear the portion of the soundtrack that includes the tractor tipping & Frank chase over and over again. When the music suddenly turns scary, he always jumps and says with great excitement, "That's Frank!" When he watches the scene on the TV, he sits, frozen and riveted, until Lightning & Mater escape. Then he erupts with loud, relieved, uncontrolled laughter (not true laughter, but rather scared cackling).

Two weeks ago (yes, it has been that long now, although it was a lot closer in time when I started to write this post), the Papaya's daddy was working all night at the hospital. I foolishly let the Papaya watch Cars as a special treat when he woke up from his nap. All went well, until right after supper. I was getting the Banana ready for bed when suddenly I had a terrified little boy clinging to my legs.

The Papaya's fear of Frank, in a dark house and in the absence of his daddy, had grown to such proportions that he refused to walk on the floor or go anywhere without me carrying him. I tried rationally explaining that Frank wasn't real, but was just a picture that some people drew. I tried praying together. I tried taking a flashlight & looking in the closets and under the beds to prove that Frank wasn't anywhere in the house (which only served to convince the Papaya that Frank might be hiding in our closet). Nothing worked, and the Papaya's fear only grew. I finally disentagled him and planted him on a chair in our room (surfaces above the floor seemed safer for him) where he could see me while I finished bedding the Banana. I gave him books to read but he didn't open them - he just stared into space with a terrified look on his face. I resigned myself to a long night ahead.

With the Banana safely in bed, I returned to the Papaya & tried to reason with him some more. Nothing was working. Finally, I decided that we should just start the normal going-to-bed routine and hope that it would jolt the Papaya out of his funk. So I asked him to go choose his special treat (if he takes an afternoon nap, he gets to eat a piece of his Halloween candy stash during his shower). At first, he refused even that, but finally the promise of sugar overcame some Frank-fear, and he dared to walk across the floor (holding tightly to my hand) to the kitchen to choose his treat. We then proceeded to the bathroom, where suddenly, with a flash of inspiration, the Papaya turned to me and asked, "Frank can't get out of his field, can he?"

I grasped at this straw & quickly changed tactics from trying to convince the Papaya that Frank was non-existant to convincing him that Frank wasn't a threat. "No, of course not!" I answered. "Frank couldn't follow Lighning and Mater once they went through the fence because he couldn't leave his field. He was stuck there."

The Papaya took this reassurance and ran with it. "Frank got hurt trying to get out of his field," he said. "I picked him up. I helped him. I gave him a Cars band-aid." As we continued with the Papaya's shower and the other parts of his bed-time routine, he repeated and refined this story of him helping Frank. When I turned off his light and left him alone in his room after reading and praying with him, the Papaya was relaxed and telling his story to Mater, depicted on the calendar hanging over his bed. As far as I know, he fell asleep right away, since I didn't hear him at all until the morning.

It was amazing. The Papaya dealt with his fear by making Frank needy, and eventually, by making the scary, angry combine mower into a friend. My imagination is rarely so charitable to people who anger or frighten me!

When my husband was working another two nights last weekend, the Papaya sat on the couch and read bedtime stories to Frank while I put the Banana to bed. He even broke his special treat in half and offered some to Frank while he showered (after a few seconds of watching half of the Papaya's small chocolate bar melt as he held it out into the hot shower, I suggested that Frank was politely refusing, and the Papaya gratefully ate it himself). While putting on his pyjamas after his shower, the Papaya said that he would help Frank get his pyjamas on, too. He made helpful comments while he put his hands out in front of him and pantomined helping Frank into his PJ's.

I wish I could have seen what the Papaya was seeing at that point. I tried to imagine a 10 ton combine mower putting on red pyjamas, but I'm afraid my imagination just wasn't that fertile! Luckily, my son is helping me get it back into shape.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A story to make you feel good about those long airport security lines...

As we stood in the security line to begin the first of our 4 airplane trips this past Christmas season, my husband realized, to his chagrin, that he had forgotten to remove the little Swiss Army knife from his keychain. It was a nice and useful knife with about three blades, scissors, and the like, and had been a gift from me. We both felt sad about having to surrender it to a TSA official.

My husband decided he wasn't surrendering his knife without at least an attempt to get it past TSA. So he surrepticiously opened our roll-on and slipped his entire keychain in, just before we got to the guy checking our ID's. I didn't have much hope for it.

Sure enough, as I helped both our children get their shoes back on (because even my one-year-old was required to remove her little slip-ons) after the chaos of getting both of them and all of our assorted hand luggage through security, I saw a TSA official wave my husband over to the bag-search area. With the manner of somebody who knew exactly what he was looking for, the TSA guy opened the luggage, rummaged through, and triumphantly pulled out our Nalgene bottle, which had about an inch of water sloshing around in it. He made my husband pour out the water (he wouldn't even allow him to drink it), handed back the Nalgene, and sent us on our way with the knife still in our possession. I looked around at the thousands of other holiday travelers in the airport and wondered how many more knives were hiding in their carry-ons.

But at least we could rest assured that there was no dangerous water coming on board with us that originated outside of the "sterile area"!

Note to any TSA staff, air marshals, or other law enforcement officials who might happen to read this post: It is fictional and cannot be used against us in a court of law. My husband would never really try to smuggle a knife past airline security.

Note to anybody else reading this post: It really happened.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hooray! I remembered my password!

You know it's been too long since your last blog post when it takes four tries to successfully log in.

But I made it in & I'm back! And right on cue, both the Banana & the Papaya have just awakened from their naps and begun to cry. I'll try again soon!