What you are about to read is entirely true as it is too twisted for even my mind to have concocted.
I tend to think that children are not encouraged to use their imaginations enough any more. While a felled branch used to pass easily for a make-shift firearm in games of backyard "war", these days kids are outfitted with disturbingly realistic plastic recreations of the genuine article lest someone not glean the intent of the participants. For most, it would appear as if books are no longer an escape but a mandatory distraction from periods of near-endless time in front of screens. The current glut of vapid television programming, from "Jersey Shore" to "American Idol", reflects a landscape where young minds aren't challenged so much as kept numb ("MacGuyver" and "Quantum Leap" made you think, Goddammit!). To this end, I'm thrilled that my wife has put such an emphasis on things like drawing, singing and the timeless "make believe" as activities for our children while I'm away at work. At least, I thought I was thrilled that they were being creative...
About a month ago I was looking after the kids while my wife was out for a few hours. I had just gotten the baby to sleep and was in the basement folding some laundry and watching TV. My oldest two were upstairs playing in their rooms. All was seemingly well. Admittedly, between the laundry and television I was fairly occupied. So when my kids kept going back and forth between the basement and rummaging through various bins o'stuff, I paid them only the faintest of attention. Occasionally my daughter would ask where a particular hat or pair of shoes were and, without looking up, I would ask her why she needed to know. "We're playing dress-up; Avery is a mouse and I'm a cat". Cute. Carry on. The trips from floor-to-floor continued for something like half an hour and as they a)weren't fighting, b)crying or c)waking the baby I was more than happy not to check in on them. After a while, they descended the basement stairs for a final time to show me what they had been up to. Normally, the results would have left me tickled to no end. This was not normally.
Meet Avery, age 3. Avery, as his somewhat bewildered/resigned look would indicate, is the favorite dress-up subject of his domineering 5 year-old sister, Helena. While he has previously suffered the indignity of being dressed as a doll, a younger sister and even a ladybug, this day found him in the fairly benign, adorable even, guise of a mouse (here modeled [obviously] after the world's most marketable rodent). My focus (and horror) was not on my Mickey'd son, but rather his sister.
This is our "cat", Helena. She had clearly covered her bases:
- Cat ears? Check.
- String to play with? Check.
- Head-to-toe purple motif with Northwestern shirt just to hammer it home? Are you F#*@ing $#!%ing me!?!
Ambivalence doesn't begin to describe this. The father in me could not have been more pleased with the creativity, focus and cuteness of my kids at this particular moment. Yet without being able to help it, the Hawkeye in me took the lead. "Where did you get that shirt?!? Change it right now!" I blurted out. I would like to say that I did so with bemused half-heartedness. Sadly, that is not the case. My shocked and upset face mixed with the audible hurt in my voice was more than a bit confusing and alarming to my kids. It should be noted that my daughter can only read a few words. "Northwestern" is not one of them. Additionally, while my kids are aware of the Iowa Hawkeyes and dutifully shout "Go Hawks!" when a Tigerhawk comes into view, they don't actually understand that there are other schools/teams, let alone a specific team who happens to torment Iowa, sports the name "Cats" and is purpler than a [insert penis joke...I said joke!]. Still, this wasn't enough for me to refrain from repeating my request that my daughter find a new outfit. Luckily, my wife came home at that moment, saving both parties from any future scarring and psychiatry bills. A cursory glance at her face indicated that she recognized the situation to be our domestic version of the final scene from "Reservoir Dogs". She quickly absolved the children of any wrongdoing by praising their costumes with gusto and then told them to run upstairs. Knowing that I was suspecting sabotage she then informed me that the shirt was acquired quite unintentionally just days before as the mother of my daughter's friend had given her the shirt to sleep in as a substitute for forgotten pajamas at a sleep-over. Clearly the costume had originated with the hat and taken on a life of its own after that. I calmed down, told my kids they hadn't done anything wrong and then told my wife Helena is not allowed to sleep over at that kid's house again. Everyone wins. Still, the conspiracy theorist in me continues to believe that something foul was afoot. After all, someone had to be behind such a gross perversion of my home's sanctity...
The Wizgerald sees all! (Clearly I'm missing Paint.Net)