Sunday, January 13, 2008

An Older Woman

Ben and I went to Children’s Fairyland this past weekend. For those of you who aren’t Bay Area parents, Fairyland is a vintage pre-Disney children’s amusement park in Oakland that’s changed very little since 1950 when it opened.

One of the many reasons Ben loves Fairlyland is because each display has a metal storybook on a stand next to it. When you insert your “Magic Key” into the storybook, you can hear a recording (usually circa 1950) of a nursery rhyme, story or song. Most kids are done with these after one or two times through the tinny recording, but Ben likes to play each one a few dozen times, of course, usually managing to memorize it.

magic key.JPG

The centerpiece of the park is a giant dragon slide. You get to the slide by walking up a long, long, long sprawling ramp with lots of switchbacks. It’s probably about two stories tall at its highest point: a Chinese-themed pagoda tower thing, but to me it looks about seven stories high, especially given that Adults Are Not Allowed On The Dragon Slide, according to the sign.

At first I was hoping to steer him away from it, since during Ben’s class field trip last Spring he had panicked at the top, creating a traffic jam of impatient toddlers. Chris had to go up and bail him out.

But he’s been showing so much more confidence with climbing and physical activity lately that I decided I wouldn’t put the kibosh on it if he were interested. The sign says that children under four aren’t allowed, but since we’re two weeks away from his birthday, I figured it was okay. I’m a spirit-of-the-law kind of gal.

As we approached the entrance to the ramp I pulled him aside and explained that he could go down the slide, but that he’d have to do it by himself, and if he got scared, Mommy would not be there to help him.

Just as he was processing all this, a girl whooshed by us. He turned and followed her out of pure excitement, and then he was gone; somewhere up that ten story ramp.

After a few minutes, I saw him come down the slide, feet-first on his stomach as usual. Before I could give him a hug of congratulations, the little girl whisked him away once more shouting, “Let’s do it again!”

I followed after and watched. She was probably five. She had dark wild curly hair. Her shirt was stretched out of shape and it was hanging off one shoulder like something out of Flashdance. She was sucking on one of those rings with a big purple candy gemstone. Her mouth and most of the area around it was sticky and purple from the candy.

She chattered and hollered various instructions to Ben. When I caught up with them, I suggested that Ben tell her his name and ask her what her name was. The words had barely left my mouth when she told us, “My name is Desiree Isabelle.” She grabbed his hand and shook it – firmly, no doubt. Ben, who luckily has picked up basic social scripts from memorizing books, said, looking completely amused, “Nice to meet you.”

They both went up the ramp again and came down the slide. Ben shouted for me at the top of the slide in the nervous voice that he uses when he’s a little scared, but only to make sure I was nearby. He boldly slid down the long, metal slide again.

At the bottom of the slide she put her arm around his shoulder and asked him to go again. He grabbed her hand and took it in his. “I want to hold hands,” he said. They ran off that way, hand in hand.

Most of my favorite movies are screwball comedies from the 1930s. They all have some sort of bookish, shy man who gets reluctantly swept off his feet and by an outgoing, somewhat eccentric female character who teaches him, through as series of misadventures, how to have fun.

This was a preschool version of those archetypes. And the best part was that my son was Cary Grant.

She continued to shout instructions and try to cajole him into one activity or another and eventually Ben wasn’t really listening. This is how most playdates look for us. Ben is in his own world while the other kid is attempting to get his attention. Then the other kid finally gives up, looking at me as if to say, “What’s with your kid?”

But somehow Ben and the little girl ended up over at the Three Little Pigs' houses, together in the house of bricks. In such an enclosed space, Ben couldn’t really ignore her any longer. I peeked through the window and Ben prompted me to be the wolf by saying the line: “Little pig, little pig, let me in!” And I obliged.

“Not by the hair on my chinney chin chin!” He shouted back. This clearly seemed to impress her. They laughed and jumped up and down and ran around pretending to be pigs running from the wolf.

We had made it up to the front gate by this time. The girl’s father was with us now. He had been trailing us at some distance the whole time; either his wise or simply exhausted parenting strategy.

I told Ben to say goodbye to his new friend. She reached out to shake his hand and he threw his arms around her. “Goodbye,” he told her as they embraced. He reached for her shirt and stretched it out even more, as if to get a good look down her shirt. And while this would pretty much spoil any other date, I think, all in all, this went rather well.


Anonymous said...

What a delightful afternoon for Ben! I can relate to so much of what you wrote about Ben with my daughter. Seriously. They are kindred spirits. I wished I lived in the Bay Area. Fairyland sounds perfect.

Susan said...

Wow. This sounds perfect!! And yes, a little screwball. But more than that, it's just a terrific experience for Ben. Yay for him!!!

jaki said...

your story made me smile...a lot. Good for Ben!

Anonymous said...

Out of the eyes of children we find such joy; not having to deal with all those constructs which always seem to muddy the waters. Tell Ben that Grandpa Bill is looking forward to seeing him very soon, and give him a special hug for me!

KAL said...

What a happy experience for Ben. It's great when the unexpected happens. I think that my boys are only helped by other kids pulling them into their world and out of theirs, however briefly. Terrific!

Anonymous said...

That is adorable. I especially love the ending to the encounter.


Tim said...

Okay, but where's the part where Des manages to release Bobo the sheep into the park or the two of them manage to inadvertently tip over the Old Woman who Lived in the Shoe house and smash it to smithereens?

Anonymous said...

Hi! I live in nearby in Piedmont, and Ben sounds much like my son, though my son turned 3 in February, 2008. My son was diagnosed with hyperlexia last week and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Can you recommend a speech therapist or psychologist in the Bay Area who is good with younger hyperlexic kids? What books have you found helpful in developing your strategies for working with Ben at home? THANK YOU for your blog and any advice you might have.