Friday, August 13, 2010

Saying Yes (and Mr. Popper's Penguins)

Some days you recognize an impulse in yourself, one that's been there so many days before ignored, and don't like it. The impulse I've been noticing in myself is practicality. Heavy-handed practicality + little children aren't that much fun. Children are not practical; they like to brush their teeth 11 times in a row with their new toothbrushes, they like to paint on their arms and legs more than the easel, they love to dump all of the toys into one bin rather than sort the toys by vehicle and instrument, they love to squish their feet in seaside mud until they are mid-calf. So often before I even think, I say "no" or "don't" or "stop" -- the practical voice. Don't take all of the cushions off the couch again for a fort because you aren't strong enough to put them back on and the living room will be a mess. Example after example. Who knew I was an instinctive nay-sayer? So I am battling it, trying to pause more before answering, trying to spit out yes's, trying to help myself pick my battles (who really cares if the kids are covered in mud for the stroller ride home), and slowly but surely, I'm changing.

Silas and I have been reading Mr. Popper's Penguins. Mr. Popper owns twelve penguins who need the cold, so he opens the windows of his house and lets the snow pour in, floods the living room til there's an inch of water and lets it freeze his furniture into place, and the family wears overcoats all the time. Then Mr. and Mrs. Popper comment on how rosy-cheeked and happy the kids are as they slip and slide with the penguins around the wintry house. A little while later, they move the penguins to the basement, buy a pricey freezer, dig a pond in the floor of the house, order live fish, and eventually move the piano downstairs among the ice blocks to practice their stage act. It's a classic child's fantasy.

As I read, I kept thinking how I'd like to live more like a Popper: flood the entire first floor (or mop it), wear winter coats to breakfast, pull the kids out of school for 10 weeks, use savings to buy a giant freezer for penguins for the sake of fun. Those little fictional Poppers hold loosely to stuff and the assumptions of what life should look like. I like that.

My mom must have been a little Popper-esque. I loved Pipi Longstocking as a girl (the old danish films, not the new ones) and remember once, while watching, pouring soapy water -- a LOT of it -- all over the kitchen floor and skating around on scrub brushes and sponges. I remember sledding down the front stairs over and over on an old crib mattress from the garage. I remember baking, making potions, moving furniture for performances, unzipping beanbag chairs and pouring out the thousands of teeny Styrofoam balls (I did get in trouble for that), climbing an embankment of red clay with my brothers while my mother watched, and having pet after pet -- frogs, fish, snake, lizards, bunny, hamsters, mice, cats, dogs. Sitting on this side of a family, those scenarios feel easy to squelch -- they are inconvenient, or messy, or take a little more work or time or attention. But what if I started saying yes and meaning it? I wonder where we'd be.

I think Ben needs to read Mr. Popper's Penguins, too.


kellycally said...

Me, too! I love those childhood memories.

Annemarie said...

amen. and maybe you've thought of this- but it was something i so loved about bringing my girls to cindy's house too! a fitting tribute- life as a popper :)