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  • Parenting from Pop's POV

Fish are jumping and the cotton is high…

Otis (almost 5) is on summer break. You wouldn’t think a preschooler would really need a summer break. Preschool life is one long summer break insofar as I can tell, but at our school, a traditional summer break is what they get. This arrangement would make more sense if I had more crops to tend. I wish I had more crops to tend.

Because I don’t, my grind is doubled and my nap-hour solitude has vanished. I now have to hustle the mise-en-place and cleaning while being interrogated about all manners of injustice. I endure the mundane, folding laundry, paying bills, while fielding misleading questions like, “How does mama have to go to work?” and “When is yesterday?” Luke, 2, has conveniently decided to reduce his nap by an hour. Combine all of this with the fact that the stupid Earth has tilted in such a manner that the sun doesn’t go down until past eight and there is more grind in my groove than I like.

But like all summer-suffering stay-at-homes, I remind myself of that ultra-trite, overused parenting coan: The days are long but the years fly by. Otis is making a quick descent into his fifth year, and by God but the chap is sweet. If you ignore the scratching and pinching and name calling that he doles out to his little brother and the screaming that follows the directive to leave his Spider-Man mask at home, the guy really couldn’t be sweeter.

This morning, after a late night of work and not-great sleep, Otis woke up at the very reasonable hour of 6:30. Elizabeth and Luke were cuddled together in our bed, so I hopped out and went to see him. “May I came up to your bunk?” I asked. His tired little eyes lit up. “Yes! You may! Actually, I would LOVE that very much! You are always welcome to come up!”

The other morning, he brought his “baby gnome” to the kitchen counter the other morning. Usually the baby gnome is just for sleeping, but he won approval for breakfast companionship after informing me that he was “feeling a little sensitive” that morning.

Recently, while on a hike, he told me, “I’m part you, part mama. I got my boobs from mama and my penis from you.”

Kids DO say the darndest things!

But there’s also this: We went to a comic book store lately looking for the new Mr Toast (the best comic for young ones, highly recommended), but there were none to be had. I like comic books and am excited to introduce them to my kids, but I’m avoiding superheroes and heavily marketed characters like SpongeBob and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for as long as I can. This is why Mr Toast is so great. Same thing, but just for him. But no Mr Toast, so I picked out a book called Robot Dreams from the All Ages section, and I flipped through it. No words, simple drawings about a dog and a robot and the dreams they have. On the back, noted to be charming and sweet and the winner of a Best Children’s Book award.

When we got it home, I realized that it was one long book, not many little dreams. The story was easy to follow and fun, until best friends dog and robot are separated. There’s some real pining between the two, many dreams (hence the title). I had to stop reading and make dinner, but Otis kept on reading until the end. I was pretty sure they were going to end up together again, but as I was mincing garlic, Otis hollered to me to tell me I was wrong. [Spoiler Alert!] We read the last pages together, and he was right. The dog had gotten a new robot and the old robot ended up with a kind and handy raccoon. The old robot, who’s been transformed into half radio, half robot, sees his old friend the dog out the window walking with the new robot. Not knowing what to do and overcome with emotion, the old robot turns on his radio and plays a song out the window, and the notes reach the dog’s ears and make him smile as he carries on his way.

Otis absolutely lost it. He wrapped his arms around me and sobbed. “Why didn’t the dog get his friend back? Why don’t they get to be friends anymore?” He cried and cried. “I wish we had gotten Mr Toast!” he wailed.

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In keeping Otis sheltered from media, we’ve kept him sheltered from fictional situations involving peril and potential loss. It’s been great. There are many good stories, with pedagogical lessons and without, that move through all manner of situations, both simple and fantastic. Without meaning to, I lead him into a deeply complex and nuanced story about friendship, loss and redemption. The fact that he woke up with night terrors is a pretty clear sign he’s not ready for such stories, but to see him display such profound empathy was incredible.

There’s a big world out there, and he got his first peek, and he did good.It takes a lot of work to keep your kids on the shy side of the rainbow bridge, deeply ensconced in the dream of childhood, free to follow every fancy, free to be good and bad and everything in between. It gets harder and harder the older they get. He’ll be on the other side soon enough (two more years, according to Mr. Steiner). The hitting and the scratching and the temper tantrums will be over and the world will be his. Until then, it’s up to me to hold the line, not to let him sneak over, to keep him in his dream. Even during summer break.

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