Monday, April 7, 2008
Jackie Paper's bedtime story
Little boys often are older than we think.
Tonight, before bed, Rye wanted to read Puff the Magic Dragon. It is only the second or third time we've gotten it out since my dad gave it to him for Christmas.
The book is beautifully illustrated, and Rye loves the page where the kings and princes bow in front of Puff and Jackie Paper and then the next page where the pirates lower their sails.
He giggled as Jackie swung from Puff's gigantic tail. And he nodded in understanding as I told him about the "toys" Jackie brought for Puff.
But then we all know what happens. The perfectly happy tale of boy and dragon turns tragic.
As the song goes: "But then one day it happened. Jackie Paper came no more..."
That's as far as we got. Rye said, "Why did he come no more?" And I saw tears fill his toddler eyes, his lip tremble and I thought, "Oh, no, why did we read this book?" and out it came. Sobs as hard as they've been in a while. Genuine sadness, heartfelt empathy from a boy still on the eve of his third birthday.
I couldn't keep it together at my dad's at Christmas when we read the book either. Why does Jackie Paper have to leave?
This book's illustrator was nice. The last two pages show a little girl coming to find Puff, play with him.
Still, Rye cried. I know, I told him. This is a sad book. It's OK. It's OK.
Even after we'd read Barney -- the happiest book I could think of -- Rye lay in bed, sniffling, his breath catching as it does after a hard cry. "I'm still sad," he said.
I told him it would be OK, that Puff is just pretend, just a story, that neither I nor Dane would ever leave him like that.
And when he went to bed, he seemed content. We'd changed subjects to Great Wolf Lodge, The Wiggles and a story he made up -- "It's a long story, Mom. I need to tell you it all right now."
Still, I can't help feeling I should have known better, that maybe I could have better protected him.
But little boys do grow up. They do move on. What happens to Puff just happens to all of us.
I wish it didn't have to.