“What’s that noise, Mommy?”
“Sounds like a dragon waking up for some breakfast.”
“No it’s not. It’s the washing machine.”
Your persistence with reality annoys me. “Then why did you ask?” I leave you in bed and hunt down your brothers.
For you, imagination must be pre-created by others, people in cellophane and places punched out of cardboard. To look outside the wrapper is to look into The Nothing.
Biff is reading, Bash is talking to helicopters. You are nowhere to be seen. I approach your bedroom door and hear small murmurs. I knock. You open the door, knowing it’s me. (That is, until your brothers learn to knock and wait. Then your room is doomed.) I see you have opened your fairy house, a three-room house built out of an old suitcase that my father had made for my dolls, and that I had recently altered with butterflies and flowers to suit fairies. All the fairies sit on the furniture in a half circle facing you.
“What are the fairies up to today?”
“Are you getting ready for a big adventure?”
“No. They’re just sitting here.”
“Are they having a party?”
I try a movie reference. “Are they going to get the blue pixie dust back from the pirates?”
I see her dragons perched nearby. “Can the dragons come over to visit?”
She scoffs at such a notion. “Dragons can’t go into a fairy house. They’re too big!”
“Well…are you having fun?”
Someone small, male, and irksome is into the kitchen pans again. “Well I guess I’ll close the door.”
“Yeah you do that.”
I do. Biff and Bash leap into the hallway with cookie pans and drying racks. “Hi, Mommy!” They throw the pans back onto the hardwood floor. “BOOM! Do it again!”
I hear a small yell as I chase little wiggling butts—“Don’t let them into my room!”
There is a box in our basement filled with audio cassettes I made when I was 5, all stories and songs I made up. Yes, I used storybooks we had, but I turned those images into places to explore. I gave characters voices and motives. They had fights and adventures. My imagination could take me into the page and deeper, until the real world was but a small hole high above me. When the typical story books didn’t satisfy me, I started making my own. I spent hours drawing out the different scenes and then “published” the esteemed work with a fancy glittered cover and purple string binding.
You grunt with increasing frustration as Bash makes yet another go at the dragons in your lap. “No, Bash, mine!” Biff rattles your door again. “Stop it, Biff!”
“WE ARE DONE!” Ahem. “Time to color, okay?”
“Crayons?!?!” Biff and Bash never have access to writing utensils unless I am desperate for peace, and today qualifies. They race to their chairs at the table, knock the chairs together, push them too far away to reach the table, whine, push them too close to get into the seats, whine again, and then just whack each other in the heads because, brothers.
You quietly get into your seat and settle your head in your hands. Bored already, and the boys haven’t even finished their routine to sit down. “What are we gonna color?”
“How about we draw today?” I get some crayons and paper and spread them out on the table. Biff and Bash get right to work, seeing which color is darkest, which crayon will fly furthest when thrown backwards, and so on.
You continue to sit. I place three colors and a blank sheet between your elbows. “What am I gonna draw?”
“Whatever you want.”
I sigh. “How about a dragon?”
“I don’t know how.”
“It can look however you want.”
Your voice shrinks. “I don’t want to.”
“Okay then, how about a fish?” I pick this specifically since you have spent a week on ocean life in school.
“What kind of fish?”
“Any fish you want.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Oh yes you do, from school.”
You draw like you eat vegetables: resigned and hateful.
Biff and Bash are on their fourth pieces of paper. “Look a helicopter!” Bash cries out gleefully as he points to a mess of circular scribbles. Biff straightens his back up and declares his pile of straight lines are “lots and lots of trailer trucks.”
You push a paper my way. In one corner of the sheet is a small orange circle, some fins, and an eye. “There, a fish.”
“It’s a lovely fish, Blondie. Can you draw another one? There’s loads of fish in the ocean, you know. Or an octopus? What about a whale?” I push the paper back. You sit and sulk for a moment, but when you see Biff and Bash are having fun for some reason, you choose a blue crayon and begin to draw.
I manage three sips of coffee before you appear in the kitchen with your paper. “The ocean’s full now. Can I go?”
A gigantic rectangle fills the rest of the page. It is bent inward on one end and dotted slightly on the other. “Is this…”
“It’s a whale.”
“Ah, I see. And what are their names?”
“The fish and the whale. What are their names?”
“Um…” you look around. I see you debate about my coffee, about the frying pan, the sink. You settle on your brothers. “Biff and Bash.”
“What are Biff and Bash going to do? Go on an adventure?”
“No. They’re just fish. Am I done now?”
You are a will of your own, always have been. I love you for your curiosity, your laughter, your silly dances and cuddly hugs. And because you are growing into your own person, I must realize that what you define yourself to be will not match my expectations. I can want you to be creative, but I cannot make you. Creating stories should be fun, not a chore, and I promise you, my daughter, that I will never make you imagine any more than you want to.
Biff rests his nose on the table as he slowly moves two trains past his eyes and back again. Bash sits on Biff’s bed to read about trains. I hear a high-pitched, exasperated voice down the hall, followed by a strange…is that supposed to be male?
I tip-toe to your room. Quiet. The bathroom door is open a crack.
I peek inside to see you on the toilet with a Tinkerbell comic book you just received for your birthday. You do not know the story yet, nor do you know many of those characters. But I see you have two index fingers pointed on two fairies, and you are making them talk.
Then you see me. “Mo-om, what are you doing here?”
“Oh just…saw the door open, thought you’d want it locked before Biff or Bash showed up.”
“Yes, please.” You wait all through my dramatically slow closing of the door before saying in a nasal voice only small children can make, “But I don’t make flowers, I’m a skunk fairy!”
You bust my heart wide open, you skunk fairy. I want to sit and listen to your voices and learn about the places, maybe add my own and give some voices too. But then the story would no longer be yours, would it?
Let your stories be your secret. I shall keep my distance and listen for the fairy-speak, wondering what adventures hide within the pages this time and all the times to come.