Monday, May 07, 2012
This Thing has been going around. It is the Thing That Has No Name, to be identified only by its symptoms: fever, chills, mild nausea, lethargy, the ineluctable urge that drives children to pad through the night to hover beside their parents' bed. And the parents let them in, because parents are suckers and just want to get some sleep. I say parents, but the children always seem to materialize on my side of the bed and lay their flushed and germy faces on my pillow. It's a form of love, I think.
Today was declared a Sick Day. Two have the fever, two are recovering, and one of the convalescents has poison ivy. The happy exception to the fevered masses is Eleanor, whose 10th birthday looms ominously on Thursday, as if to provide a convenient target for an incubating ailment to suddenly irrupt. But today Eleanor was content, because sick children get to lay on the loveseat in the library and watch videos on Netflix, and when sick children hit a critical mass, even their healthy sister gets to veg. The children arranged themselves neatly on the couch, sans the kicking that usually accompanies too many bodies jockeying for position on a small sofa, for there was much anticipation: we are working our way through The Adventures of Tintin.
Tintin! The intrepid boy reporter! We never see him research anything or take any notes, nor yet send any reports in to his editor or bureau chief, and yet his reporter status confers on him a thrilling intrepid quality that can only be described as Intrepidity! He is brave and daring, even if he's a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. ("What's going on here?" he demands of a bad guy waiting for him with scimitar unsheathed.) That's okay, because between Tintin and Snowy, his little dog, the day will always be saved after plenty of adventures have ensued. The kids are absolutely hooked by the mysteriously adventurous theme music and the non-stop action.
The first fictional character on whom I had a crush was Encyclopedia Brown; I think Eleanor's will be Tintin. This sums up something fundamental about our personalities: Eleanor is drawn to derring-do and swashbuckling. When she is considering a book, her question is, "Is the whole world in danger?" (She prefers it to be saved by teenagers, but with No Kissing.) Whereas I have always liked the smart guy, and looking back to when I was circa Eleanor's age, I can see the roots of this preference. I was a small and mousy child in elementary school, neither popular nor pariah. The smart boys at school tended to be nice. One could have intelligent conversation with them on the playground. One could have swing races and shout out grandiose terms like "Altitude!" and "Longitude!" (even if one was shaky on the definitions of these fine bits of vocabulary). These boys knew how to be kind as well as witty. The handsome swashbuckling boys, by contrast, were brash, loud, overconfident, and not particularly inclined to civility or erudition. They could be mean, and they could be crude, and they teased knowingly, if ignorantly, about sex. I shrank from them, and despised them.
Eleanor, however, does not go to school, and she does not know any mean boys with their playground ways. All the boys of her acquaintance are basically good eggs, whether they like sports or science or board games. She doesn't know any jokes about sex. I'm in the happy position of raising a child who is more innocent at her age than I was at mine. In such innocence does real personality have a chance to flourish. It makes me wonder, would I like Brad Pitt more now if he didn't somehow remind me of the jerks in third grade?
Eleanor may get plenty more chances to bestow innocent admiration on Our Hero's prowess. I'm trying my best to ignore the achy sensation threatening to radiate from my spine and the subtle tightening of my skull. Oh well. If I have to spend tomorrow in bed, I'm not really worried -- I know Tintin will keep my girl safe.