Not Out of the Woods: A Boy And 'Bambi'

By Lori Hall Steele
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, June 23, 2008

My son is having an age crisis. The morning after his fourth birthday, he shuffles into my bedroom, stands next to my cozy bed and there, in his Bob the Builder jammies, says he wants out of the system -- time, aging, mortality, the whole shebang. Not in so many words, of course.

"Am I 4?" Jack asks.

I confirm that he is.

"I want to be 3," he says, quite seriously.

He says he's "a little bit nervous about growing up." And though I get it -- who isn't? -- I ask why.

"When I'm 4," Jack asks, "will you still look after me?"

Will I? Of course, of course, of course. I stroke his blond curls and tell him he'll always be my baby. But it's as if he senses some disclaimer from the universe.

"Mommy?" he asks. "Will you still look after me when I'm a grown-up?"

Early childhood is supposed to be a Neverland, a time of invincible light and perpetual now. Yet some intimation of mortality has entered my small child's wonderland. In this simple question I see darkness. I see Dali clocks spinning and the creepy ravine where loneliness lives.

Maybe "Bambi" took him here. We'd recently watched the Disney classic, both for the first time. As deer, pastel flowers and cuddly animals filled the screen, I wasn't thinking that Bambi's mother dies. When I remembered, I wondered how I could stop the show without creating a crisis. As I contemplated possible distractions, my son started making gun noises, mimicking the sounds of "man" in Bambi's serene woods. Clearly we didn't have much time.

Why don't the good guys come and get hunters? asked Jack.

Good question. Better yet: Where was the remote?

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