All relationships can teach us something….When we teach a group of children, we’re not teaching the children, we are expressing the true self in a way appropriate to the classroom. Now this may sound idealistic and remote; yet every five minutes we get a chance to work with it.
-Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen
The email arrived Thursday afternoon from the Family Center. Dad’s Playgroup canceled tonight due to illness. The coordinator was sick. His wife was sick. His daughter was sick. The only one in his family not sick was his one-year-old, foreign-born, adopted child. Personally, if I was sick and given the choice between running a playgroup and staying at home with an active one-year-old who doesn’t speak my language and needs lots of attention, I might not have made the same choice. He is a better man than I. Or much sicker than I realized.
At the same time, we heard that the parent meeting at the Montessori school had been canceled because of a snow advisory. Woo hoo! Snow in November! And all our evening plans canceled.
“Dawn,” I offered. “Why don’t you go finish the grocery shopping tonight, and I will stay home with the children.”
“Are you sure?” she said, trying not to sound suspicious of my magnanimity. “What will you do?”
“I thought I might give the kids a treat and let them watch the Billy Jonas DVD that Jack gave us a year ago.”
Rose was in her bedroom, but her radar ears have a highly-tuned, highly-selective hearing. She came running into the kitchen, excited. We watch movies at home maybe four time a year. “Are we going to see a movie?”
“Yes, I thought we should finally sit down and watch the Billy Jonas DVD.”
“Who’s Billy Jonas?” she asked.
“A musician. He plays children’s music of some sort. It’ll be like watching a concert on TV.”
“Can’t we see the Pooh movie, instead?”
The last four movies we’ve watched have been the original Winnie the Pooh movie, thus proving the adage, “Too much is never enough.”
“No, sweet girl. We don’t have it. We own the Piglet Movie that Grandma got you.”
“Can we watch that, then?”
“Let’s watch at least five minutes of Billy Jonas, and then if you don’t like it, we can switch. How’s that?”
“ooookaaay.” Reluctant, but accepting.
The plan was made. The trap was set.
Dawn left to go shopping. The children cleaned up their toys, brushed their teeth, and got their pajamas on in record time. Which isn’t to say that it was particularly efficient or speedy, but relatively speaking, a measurable improvement over most nights.
I found the DVD and we trooped into our bedroom where the laptop computer (our only DVD player) was set up on the desk.
“Papa, can we watch the Piglet movie?”
“No, Rose. We are going to watch Billy Jonas for five minutes first. You might actually like it better than Piglet.”
Rose bounced on the bed. Samuel, anticipating a loud musical experience, already had his hands covering his ears and so needed assistance getting on the bed. I started the DVD and sat on the bed next to Rose with Samuel in my lap.
The words “Billy Jonas” appear on the screen swooping and sliding into place, followed by the title, “Bangin’ and Sangin’,” sliding up from below. A young man with long, dark, curly hair and a nose almost a large as my own appeared on a stage holding a large, mostly empty, water cooler tub – the translucent, blue, plastic kind you see perched upside-down on water dispensers in cubicle farm offices. This young man started shaking and slapping his plastic tub with his hands while chanting an African call and response song to a room full of children. The children repeated each line as best they could – apparently not many of them spoke Ewe or Fon or Dengo or Swahili. Go figure.
“Samuel, it isn’t really loud. Do you want to take your hands off your ears?”
He turned and looked up at me, his face blank of expression. “N.. No, Papa.”
“Papa,” Rose asked. “What is he playing?”
“It’s a water cooler tub?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Can we see Piglet now?”
“Let’s watch at least two songs. I thought you liked silly.”
The song ended. The audience applauded. The scene cut to Billy in a studio room surrounded by objects. He explained his shtick, which is making music with found objects. He told his audience-at-home (us) how to make music with old cans, cheese graters, wooden spoons, aluminum foil, etc. He was full of enthusiasm with a bit of humor and touch of the Old School philosophy of Entertaining Children: Louder is Better.
“I have a good idea, Papa. Let’s watch the Piglet movie.”
“Rose! We said we would watch five minutes, that’s two songs.”
Samuel is sitting in my lap watching intently, and I can’t see his face behind his elbows with his hands on his ears, so I ask, “Are you OK, little man?” and he says, “Yes.”
Next Billy Jonas performed Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, with four “instruments,” one on each of his body appendages. I had to admit, it was kind of cool and amazing and very musical in a percussion-heavy, one-man-band manner. It was like observing a street performer, but from a safe distance in case he wants a volunteer from the audience for his next act. He had a half dozen young children who, with the aide of digital video editing, did some funky dance steps that would have me on ibuprofen for a week if I had tried it.
When the song ended, Rose jumped up and said, “Hooray! Let’s go see the Piglet Movie.”
Admitting defeat, I lifted Samuel so I could get off the bed and turn off the DVD. I felt his entire body trembling. I turned him toward me and his face was screwed up tight like the bottom of a tomato. His eyes were wet, and his hands pressed his ears even harder.
“Papa!” he screamed. “I … don’t … yike … that … music!” And he burst into tears and screamed so loudly that my ears rang. I could not soothe him fast enough.
“Samuel, honey, it’s ok! I’m going to turn it off right now. We’re not going to watch it anymore. We’re going to put on the Piglet Movie, right Rose?”
“Yeah! Yeah! The Piglet Movie!” Rose yelled.
But Samuel was not consolable. He would not let me put his down, taking his hands off his ears to clutch at my shirt when I tried to get off the bed to turn off the DVD. But once his hands were off his ears, he could hear the DVD, and he put them back on his ears, then on my shirt, then on his ears. I picked him up in one arm, turned off the DVD, and headed to the living room. Samuel cried the entire time.
“Samuel, please wait here with Rose. I need to bring in the TV from the closet. Can you do that?”
“uh … uh… O-K.” he sniffled.
“Rose, can you wait here with Samuel so he doesn’t get scared?”
I walked back to my bedroom, and went to the closet to pick up the 40 pound, 13inch TV/video player. As I turned around in the cramped space, Rose and Samuel were both standing there, blocking my way out. Samuel still had his hands on his ears. I had a tenuous grasp around the heavy box and had to keep readjusting it so it did not slip out of my fingers and onto their heads.
“Papa, can we watch the Piglet Movie now?”
“Papa! I didn’t yike that music!”
“Can you both let me out? Now! Move! Please!”
Soon we were sitting as cosily on the floor as we had been sitting on the bed. Only now I could see Samuel’s face if I peered around his antenna elbows. Rose started giggling even before the intro titles had stopped rolling. Then Pooh, Rabbit, Eeyore, and Tigger were executing a plan to trick a hive of bees out of their honey, while Piglet tagged along, unwanted. The bees however were not tricked. They were angry. Madcap slapstick ensued. A. A.
Milne rolled in his grave.
Rose giggled and Samuel, not really understanding, laughed just as loud. He turned his head, almost bopping me in the nose with his elbow, checking our faces to make sure he is doing the right thing. He is smiling. Then the bees reappeared, angry, chasing everyone away. A switch turned on in Samuel and he freaked out again.
“Papa! Papa! Papa!” He began to cry. Loudly. Right in my ear.
I rushed him off to his bedroom, and we sat in the gliding rocking chair, me soothing and he sobbing. Rose followed us, leaving the door open. We can hear the movie playing down the hall.
“Rose, you can still watch the movie. I need to get Samuel calmed down in here.”
“But Papa. I don’t want to be alone. What if there is a scary part?”
I could not imagine what a scary part in “The Piglet Movie” would look like, but I didn’t trust Disney enough to tell her this.
“I don’t yike that movie!”
“I know, sweet boy. You don’t have to watch it.” He was trembling again, but at least he wasn’t screaming anymore. “Rose, I need you to make up your mind. Do you want to watch the movie alone, or do you want to hang out here with us?”
“I want Papa to watch it with me.” Very pouty.
“OK, I think we are going to have to turn off the movie, and …” but before I could make her another offer, Rose burst into tears.
“Papa, that’s not fair! You said I could see the movie! Why does Samuel get to not watch it!”
She went on like this, but either she was making less and less sense, or I just couldn’t hear her over Samuel’s renewed crying. Instead I stood up, holding Samuel who was clutching my shirt and getting mucus and tears all over it, and I walked to the living room and turned off the video. Then I came back to Samuel’s room and sat heavily in the chair. Rose did not stop kvetching the whole time, only she added foot stomping to her routine.
“Rose,” I said, but she did not stop. “Rose. Rose! Haaanaaah! HAAAAANNAAAHH! Have you got your listening ears on?”
She didn’t answer me, but she did stop talking.
“It is twenty minutes before 8:00. What I was going to say is that after Samuel goes to bed, I will let you watch another twenty minutes of the movie.”
“Will you watch it with me?”
“In the meantime, would you like to read a book with us?”
“Yes! I want to read a Winnie the Pooh book.” And before I could say anything, she ran out of the room and returned with The House At Pooh Corner, which was a little too old for Samuel. But he was in my lap, sniffling and calm. Rose climbed in too. The three of us scrunched in the rocker, and I began to read a chapter, continually moving my head to see the pages around the bodies of my children who kept leaning back and forth to see the illustrations or point out words.
“Are you guys comfortable?”
“No,” they both said.
“Let’s go read this in the living room.”
We switched to the couch in the living room. Samuel sat on my lap and Rose sat next to me on the other side. I managed to read one sentence when Rose said, “Papa, when I see the TV sitting on the table over there, and I can’t watch the movie…” her lips began to quiver, “… I … get … sad … all over again.” And she burst into tears.
Samuel looked up, saw Rose crying, saw the TV, slapped his hands over his ears, and began to cry too.
“I don’t yike the movie! I don’t yike the movie!”
I tossed the book on the coffee table, picked up Samuel, and walked him to his room.
“Samuel? Are you ready for bed?”
“Let’s go to bed.”
“Papa!” says Rose trailing behind me, “I don’t want to go to bed!That’s not fair! That’s…”
“I didn’t say you were going to bed, Rose. Remember I promised you twenty minutes of movie after Samuel was asleep, right?”
“So I’ll get Samuel to sleep if you will wait in the … living room.” I thought it, but I did not say it.
Rose disappeared, whether to the living room, the bathroom, her bedroom, or Timbuktu, I did not know or particularly care at the moment. I put Samuel in bed, and lay down on the floor next to him, exhausted. I started singing lullabies to him, my voice rough from holding back all the things I did not say that night.
“Papa,” he interrupted.
“Shh, Samuel, it’s sleepy time.”
“I didn’t yike the movie.”
“I know, sweet boy. Go to sleep.”
Two minutes later I heard the automatic garage door opening. I heard the car enter and the door close. I heard Rose racing to the basement stairs and opening the door to the basement where the garage is.
“Hey, Rose!” Dawn yelled from below. “Did you have fun with Papa?”
The long review of the evening’s events from the top of the steps was mostly unintelligible from Samuel’s room, but two minutes later, Dawn walked in with Rose trailing not far behind. Samuel lifted his head from the bed and looked at Dawn.
“Mama. I didn’t yike the movie.”
“I heard. Papa? How did it go?” There was concern in her voice, and a smile that she was valiantly trying to hide.
I raised my head from the floor where I had fallen asleep.
“Billy Jonas is the Devil.”