It's one of the most oft-recurring bits in our family. We'll be out for a drive, or sitting in a restaurant, or simply laying in bed early on a lazy Sunday morning when seemingly out of nowhere . . .
"Harold? Harriet? What are you doing here?"
Harold is a blue duck, you see. Harriet is his wife. She's green. We've known for a while that the two of them came to our house from their family home in Wichita, KS, bringing with the their two ducklings (who are unnamed and somewhat inexplicably yellow) and Grandma (though, it's unclear whose mother she is—Harriet's or Harold's). Initially we thought Harold was only here for a conference. Now it seems he and his family are here to stay. Oh, and recently we learned that Harriet is actually from Tacoma, having met and fallen in love with Harold while on tour with her folk band.
The ducks have a habit of following us wherever we go, popping up in our car or flying alongside as we make our way from gymnastics to swimming or wherever else we may be going. The elaborate backstories have been developed over many an appearance in our lives. They are the things you inevitably learn about people (or, erm, ducks) as you spend a little time together.
And they are just two of an ever-growing cast of characters.
There's also Linus and Stanley, the Galapagos turtles; Barry, the oversized bear, and his wife Harriet (confusing, but sometimes people and animals have the same name, you know); Goose (a moose) and Moose (a goose); and a very strange creature called a red-nosed, blue-footed follapagos. He's made entirely of dirty diapers, believe it or not, but he wears pink polka-dotted pyjamas.
My daughter calls them, collectively, my friends. Her appetite for stories about this motley crew seems to be insatiable. She'll ask me to recount some new adventure and she'll hang on to every word, quick to point out if I mix up a voice (oh yea, they all have distinct voices) or if some new plot twist conflicts with some other anecdote I've shared before. Together we've created an entire universe for these guys, complete with unexpected crossover moments (for example, it turns out Linus was actually in Harriet's band!) and recurring gags (Barry tends to crush our car when he sits on it, he's really quite a large bear).
I've asked my daughter a few times if she wants to sit down sometime and put these stories on paper—both as a means to document the increasingly complex universe of imaginary friends and, admittedly, with the thought that our collective silliness might make fodder for a children's book some day.
But she has zero interest in that.
For her, Harold and Harriet and the ducklings and Grandma; Linus and Stanley; Barry and Harriet; Goose the moose and Moose the goose . . . they don't live on paper. They live in our imaginations, popping up wherever and whenever the mood seems right. As though taking the step of documenting even a small part of their existence will somehow compromise the very thing that makes them special.
I consider myself a storyteller. I come from a long line of them. It makes me really damn proud to see my daughter keeping the tradition alive. And it makes me even prouder when she plays the role of teacher, reminding me that some stories are best kept in our minds.
The game is a simple one. Often, when we're out at a restaurant that offers crayons as a pre-meal distraction, my kid will grow bored of colouring and instruct me to cover my eyes. She'll arrange a few crayons into the shape of a letter or a number or some other random thing and ask me to guess what it is.
"Is it a square?"
"No, it's a zero. Now cover your eyes again!"
"Ok, open them."
"Hmm, that looks like an M."
"Nope it's a W. You're looking at it upside down."
And so on.
The other day we were at our preferred restaurant for our Daddy-Daughter Dinner Dates and the familiar order came again. I covered and uncovered my eyes as she presented an array of triangles, arrows, Ns, Ms and even a balance beam ("no it's not a line, Daddy, it's a beam like in my gymanstics!"). Then she stumped me.
"Is it a Y?"
"Nope! Guess again."
"Hmm. A tree branch?"
"Is it two balance beams running into each other?"
"No Daddy, that's silly. Do you give up?"
"Yea sweetie, I give up."
"It's a gun!"
"Yea, a gun!"
"Where did you learn about guns?"
"I don't remember."
"Well guns aren't very nice, kiddo. They can hurt people."
"Yea or kill people."
And there we have it. My four year old knows what guns are. She has a rough idea of their shape and she knows that they can kill people.
Granted, I'm not an idiot. I know it would be naive to believe that she could get through life not knowing what guns are. I guess I just thought I had more time... Or something? I mean, where did she even hear about guns? Or see a picture of one? Why does she know that people kill people with guns?
But this sort of thing happens. A few weeks ago we were marvelling that she even knew people killed people sometimes (that one came up when my wife was listening to the news). I don't know if she really understands death, to be honest, or that everyone dies eventually, but she heard a news report about violence in Syria and she knew that somewhere out there someone was killing someone else.
It's like little by little, layers of her innocence are being peeled away. Little bits of reality grab at her and she's exposed to more of the realities of life. Like an onion, each layer is barely noticable (at least to her) but taken in aggregate they start to add up. I know it has to happen. I know she can't be sheltered. She's ready to take on the world more every day and this is the price of admission.
But it still makes me cry a little.
Then have I got an offer for you.
The first ever Naked Dadding Roundtable went so well (read: no lawsuits, no criminal charges) so I'm hosting another one!
Missed out last time? New to the idea but strangely attracted to the idea of moderate-to-low internet fame? Firstly, verify you meet the criteria, then leave a comment below to let me know. I'll pick the panelists at random and contact them via email on Monday, March 17 to let them know. The criteria for participation is the same.