Each evening around 7:30, the Bear Boy and I travel far afield and back in time to ancient Greece where we lash ourselves to the mast with Odysseus, to Europe in the middle ages where we prepare to lay siege to the fortress of our enemies, to a four-masted galley in the Caribbean where we hoist the colors high, to a starry night along the Underground Railroad where we wait breathlessly for the ferry, or to the high prairie where the grass and winds and wolves sing through the night. It is, no doubt, the sweetest bit of kismet that I bore a child who loves a good story as much as I. Once his teeth are brushed and his jammies on, we crawl into his bed. The bed frame creaks as we get our pillows situated just so and snuggle down under the covers in anticipation of our nightly reading. I love to read aloud for this boy. There is nothing quite like a peal of Bear’s six year old laughter when Pippi’s father, the long lost pirate captain and cannibal king, gets stuck in the wall of the woodshed. Or Bear’s righteous six year old rage when Aunts Spiker and Sponge bully poor James.
We’ve lately been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, both of us for the first time. For Bear, there is no theatrical fourth wall, no need to suspend disbelief. He places himself heart and soul in each story. When Laura awoke to find her Pa by the window with his gun and the wolves circled round on all sides, Bear pulled his quilt up to his nose. Curled next to me, I felt the imperceptible shake of his little body, then the paralyzed tension. I lowered my voice to a hush as I read how Laura looked out the window with her Pa. The moonlight illuminated the outline of the largest of the pack, the great gray one, head tilted back for a lonesome howl at the moon. When the howls of the whole pack rang through the night, Bear let out a noise, something between a strangled shout and the high pitched squeal of steam escaping a valve. Body and soul, I tell you. He experiences everything body and soul.
It’s always been like this for my boy. When fully engaged, any activity with him takes on the gravitas of an Olympic quest for the gold, whether it be reading a story, watching a movie, playing a game of cards, drawing a picture or swinging in the backyard. Tom chasing Jerry about our television screen can induce a fit of tense bodied vertical bouncing which is followed by a lap run pell-mell and half crazed through the house. This is the same boy who, when we signed him up for a soccer league two summers ago, ran onto the soccer field for nearly every game with his imaginary sword hoisted high overhead and chased down his opponents yelling like William Wallace charging into his final battle. And also the boy who, after I returned from a long weekend away, greeted me at the back door with a grim farewell. He warned me, as he prepared to join the troops with his canteen, his blue kepi, and his imaginary pistol, that I should take Goose and run for the hills. If he and his whisky-making buddy, Jack (yes, that one) didn’t make it home from the battle, he wanted me to know he loved me. I swear to Zeus and Hera that I do not make this stuff up.
And speaking of Zeus, Bear loves a themed party. When he turned three, he had a pirate party. At five, it was a Robin Hood party. Last year all of his buddies showed up in togas, each as a different Greek God or Goddess. Bear was Hercules. Goose was a friendly version of Cerberus. In a month we’ll celebrate his seventh birthday. He’s decided he wants everyone to come as pioneers. We’ll have wagon races and tug-o-war. He’s had his costume set to go for months. Months before each party we begin conferring about game ideas, food options, and all the little details that transform our backyard into whatever time or place his imagination fancies.
He fully believes in the fairy world too. If any household item goes astray, Goose giggles and says it “growed wegs and wawked away” (yes, she is four and a half years old, but those pesky Ls still confound her wittow tongue). Bear will knowingly shake his head and chide, “No, it was a boggart that did it. Or maybe a pixie, but probably a boggart.” The line between historical and mythical is pretty fluid for him. Last summer, at the cabin, he found a small flat rock and a short stick. He asked me to help him make a miniature hatchet. He told me he wanted to leave it outside overnight and see if it would still be there in the morning. If he woke up and the hatchet was gone, he would take it as proof positive that there were fairies, brownies, boggarts and goblins at the lake
Maybe he’ll write a great novel or tread the hallowed boards someday. Who knows? Regardless of where they may take him, Bear’s creative interpretations often tickle me silly. Take for example this little encounter after I watched Charlie pretend to dig up Auntie J’s backyard. He paused in his work, shook his head at some imaginary soul, said a few words with his eyebrows knitted tightly, then waved his empty palms in the air with a shrug. Clearly, this was some serious business. When he came inside not long after, I asked what he had been pretending.
“Mom, I was a digger.” Huh?
“What do you mean, ‘a digger’?”
“A grave digger, Mom,” he said, “I was looking for the Scottish girl.” The hell?
“What Scottish girl?” I asked.
“Poryerach,” he said.
“Por who?” I asked. Bear groaned, as if I were completely ignorant. As if digging up foreign girls in the backyard weren’t as completely creepy as it sounded.
“Mo-ooo-om! Por. Yer. Ach.” Aha! Yorick. Poor Yorick. Alas poor Yorick. Earlier in the day Bear had asked to see a plastic skull that was perched atop one of Auntie J’s bookcases. When I took it down, I quoted Hamlet, “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well.” Alas. A lass.
The machinations of Bear’s little mind are such a wonder. Escaping into his imagination is one of the finest pleasures of parenting for me. Tonight we’ll be starting a new book, The Pagemaster by David Kirschner, about how the adventures inside books become real for one young boy. Indeed. I think Bear Boy will find himself right at home in those pages.
This post is part of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape.