Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That's Not Funny, Grannie

Among the things I admire about my daughter-in-law, Andrea, is the way that she explains things to her three-year-old. Joey is verbally quick and he understands a lot of what she says. Even if he doesn’t "get" all the subtleties, Andrea is establishing an important pattern of communication that will serve their family well in the years to come. In the meantime, the discussion and the results are a delight to me.
Recently, we were together in a store and Andrea reminded Joey that he had to take my hand or her hand because we were about to enter a public place. Joey took my hand and held tightly, staying right beside me – not his typical approach to shopping. "There’s strangers at the store," he explained in an awed whisper. "Oh," I said. "Ok. I’ll watch out for you." So we followed Andrea around the store, with Joey trotting beside me in that happy bouncing gait that only toddlers can achieve. The conversation traced his recent preoccupation– the moral fabric of real and imagined characters. "Tigers are bad; they bite. Lions bite. If I see a bad lion with teeth, I will fight him, Grannie." I thought that was a good idea and said, "Okay, I’ll help." Over her shoulder Andrea reminded Joey of an important distinction. "Tigers and lions are wild, Joey. They’re not really bad. There’s a difference between wild and bad." This thought held us captive until Andrea had gathered her supplies we came to a standstill at the register.
One of the store’s employees stood there, restocking the magazine shelves. He smiled at us in a benign way. Joey looked at me, watched me smile back and said, "Some strangers," he began, stretching out the words while he thought about it and peered quizzically at the man. "Some strangers are nice, but--" His mind worked to sort out his mother’s instructions. Andrea leaned toward me to explain her idea. "I’ve been trying to get him to see that wild animals have to be wild. They’re dangerous, but not bad. Dangerous to us." I nodded, feeling proud of her for helping her child learn to make subtle distinctions as Joey clung to my hand, moved a little closer to my leg, still studying the stranger who was really not behaving in a way that was either wild or dangerous.
Evidently Joey had been recently curious about all sorts of things. Besides his interest in the morality of people and animals, he had asked about God and Andrea had tried – as best she could to begin the life-long conversation about good and evil. He had wanted to know about war and fighting and so Andrea had explained using current events for examples. On inauguration day, his aunt had asked him if he knew we were getting a new president. "Obama," Joey said. "Is he good?" His aunt replied, "We hope so." Joey seemed to like this response, but said brightly, "Oh, but Bush is bad." His aunt reassured him, "no, that’s not it exactly. It’s just that his turn is over. We have a new president." Joey seemed satisfied with that and returned to his dinosaurs and cars.
Some short time later, when I stopped by their house for a visit, Joey greeted me with a big grin and shouted "Trash Can!" When he was one year old, this term used to crack him up and because his laugher was so free and happy, I laughed, too. So it had become kind of a thing that when he needed a certain type of attention, he would shout "Trash Can" at me and I laughed because he was so silly. (I don’t actually think "Trash Can" is all that funny). That day, Joey repeated "Trash Can" over and over his voice gaining pitch and intensity, Andrea came to my rescue explaining to him that there was nothing actually funny about that word. He looked puzzled and glanced at me. Andrea explained, very kindly, that Grannie was the only one who laughed at that and it was just because I was being nice. Or something like that. We went on to other occupations.
A week or so later, Joey brought two of his dad’s old GI Joes to my house. One was the basic American hero sort of GI Joe and the other, face covered, dressed in black was obviously a dangerous member of Cobra. Joey seemed to clearly understood who was good and who was bad. We found some more old GI Joes in the toy basket and Josh picked one to add to his team. "What should his name be?" I asked. Normally Josh names most things "Josh" consenting to use other family names like "Jack" or "Karl" only if it is really an emergency (too many toys needing names). He began "His name is Joey– no." He shook his head. "GI- Joey?" I suggested. He started to smile, then shook his head again, looking strict. "How about GI Jack?" Joey’s little mouth twitched and I saw him straighten out his smile as if he were standing in the principal’s office. "No," he said very sternly. "How about GI-Grannie?" This time he really did smile and with much difficulty recovered. "No, Grannie. It’s not funny. Sometimes you think its funny and nobody else does." Of course, I thought that was hilarious and laughed a lot.
I guess it’s true and perhaps no one else will think another of Joey's comments funny except me. His dad was putting him to bed and Joey had brought along his big plastic dinosaur named – what else? Joey-T-Rex. The conversation went like this:
"Joey-T-Rex" tects me," he informed his daddy. "Tects" means protects.
"Why do you need protecting? You’re safe here."
"No. He tects me from dangerous things."
"There’s nothing here but your toys,"
"Just dangerous things."
"Like what?" his dad asked again.
"Just Satan and Bush," Joey said.
Now I guess I’m probably the only one who thinks that’s funny, but I sure do.

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