Wednesday, May 20, 2009
We live in one of those circular houses where the dining room opens into the hall, which opens into the living room, the T.V. room, the kitchen, the pantry and into the dining room again. When our children were small we liked to play a game, which we called “Chase.” I would walk and they would run away from me, all shrieks and laughter, around and around the house. The game was most popular at bedtime when they wanted to avoid me anyway. I’m not sure if the game wound them up or tired them out, but at the strategic moment they would choose the escape route up the stairs. I never explained to them that this meant that I had won the game.
Madeline always preferred her mom at bedtime: Mom’s special interpretation of Peter Rabbit, Mom’s way of straightening the room and drawing the curtains, Mom’s lap, Mom’s hug and kiss goodnight. No boys allowed––until recently. It may have been a night when Mom was away at her book club. The game of chase was full of the usual shrieks and laughter, but they turned to tears as we went upstairs. It was too dark outside. I was reading all of the books the wrong way. I managed to get her into bed. I tucked her in and turned out the light, but I wasn’t Mom. So I told her a story about how, when I was her age, I had a dog named JoJo, and how JoJo had missed his mom and had decided to write her a letter. I have been a part of Madeline’s bedtime for a long time after that.
There was something wonderful about sitting there beside her bed in the dark and filling her seven year-old head with lies. I did have a dog named JoJo, and he was a dachsund, and he did like to run away at the drop of a hat (just like Madeline), and I was once a child exactly her age, but JoJo didn’t write letters to his mother or to anyone else, nor did he decorate our Christmas tree one year with my sister’s flowery underpants, nor did he ever play minor league baseball or climb trees. But she didn’t know this, and if she suspected she didn’t told me.
There was a certain amount of pressure every night. I never tried to think of a story until the lights were out. Sometimes the story wasn’t terrific, and there were many wonderful, densely-plotted tales which she didn’t heard all the way through because she’d fallen asleep, which was the point after all. Or was the real point that I’d found a way around the “girls only” policy at bedtime? I’m happy I did, for a while anyway. And I did it not by reading one of the four or five new books about fathers and daughters that come out every year. I just stumbled across it in the dark.
(The drawing is from my sketchbook. The story was published a few years ago in a magazine for fathers and daughters. I'm hoping some of the stories I invented and told to Madeline during that time are published before she is done with college. We'll see.)