And deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say,
if you look deep enough you can still see, today,
where the Lorax once stood
just as long as it could
before somebody lifted the Lorax away.
He's at it again, reading a bedtime story to the girls. He sits on the flowered couch, Anna curled up on one side of him and Sasha on the other. Mr. Popular. For weeks now the featured performance has been Dr. Seuss's The Lorax. His voice goes from smooth and sweet, to geeky and nervous, to an outright bellow that seems to disturb even our fish.
And so goes the evening noise in our house, every night an opera.
I do the dishes, trying to feel useful. The last time I tried to read The Lorax (but only because he was out of town), I got corrected a lot. Those little brown guys were Bar-ba-loots, not Bar-ba-loots, my girls assured me. And I used the Gluppity-Glupp sound effect when I should have used Schloppity-Schlopp. Oh, there were all sorts of problems.
Oh, well. I've long since stopped trying to compete. Really, we're in different leagues. When I first started reading books to my children, I just read. That was fine for a few rounds of Goodnight Moon. But then Mr. Popular stepped in with his multimedia approach, and story time in our house became something else entirely.
At the moment, they're at the page where the Humming-Fish first appear. I know this because all three of them have broken into the "Hmm hmm hmm" song he invented specifically for the occasion.
Standing here with my dishpan hands, I'm thinking what I usually think right about this hour: Who knew? I had no idea my husband would be so . . . involved with this bedtime story thing. How surprising it is to watch your husband morph into a father. The man you knew one way becomes bigger, more complicated. Why does he put so much of himself into reading stories to our girls? The thing is, a parent really doesn't have to be good at reading stories. Most of the time, the stories speak for themselves, and any competent narrator will do. In extreme circumstances, you can yawn your way through a story; you can even cheat and skip pages; you don't have a boss over you to impress or a ticket-paying audience that might give you bad reviews. Really, as I think about it, the only reason to give it your all, to give it the old operatic effect, is: love.
"Mister!" he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees."
The Lorax is an unabashed environmentalist's plea; the bad guy (who redeems himself with regret) keeps cutting down Truffula trees and keeps "biggering" his factory until there's nothing left at all on the far end of town except some old Grickle-grass. I've heard educators say it's a good way to introduce kids to the value of protecting nature. But in my house, I'm sure that's not the only seed that's getting planted.
A father's time with a daughter is different from that with a son, or a mom's with a daughter, or any other combination. Out of nowhere, I'll hear him turn to one of the girls and say, "You're pretty." Or, "You're smart." Or, "You have a kind heart." There is nothing so spectacular or original in these observations, I suppose. A person can likely grow into a healthy adult without hearing them very often, from anyone. But a girl who gets this information, over and over again, from her father? I think he's planting seeds.
Washing dishes to the rhythm of Dr. Seuss can get my imagination working overtime. (Sometimes
the bubbles reveal themselves to be elephant-like characters I try to name.) Right now I'm thinking of the seeds, and, in the spirit of things, I imagine them blooming 20 years from now into echoes: "My dad thinks I'm smart. My dad thinks I'm pretty. My dad thinks I'm a good person." You walk around as a grown woman with those messages rattling around in your brain as you brave the world, and you walk around tall, protected, unfettered by the preoccupations of wondering if you're lovable.
Does he know he's doing this? Is he working hard at it, or is this just who he is without thinking? Sometimes I think I'm just getting to know this man, Mr. Popular. The stories he reads at night, his operatic performances, I suppose those are more of the same, more of the messages that say: "You're the most important audience I could ever have."
Well, excuse me, and Happy Father's Day, but it's time for the scene with the Super-Axe-Hacker which whacked off four Truffula Trees at one smacker, and I happen to have a small speaking role . . .
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.