Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bedtime stories, pyromania and audiotape

“In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of, yes, that’s a fire,” I said.

Evan sat in my lap, pointing at the roaring fireplace on the page. The fire plays no part in the story of Goodnight Moon, but it is pictured on several of the pages, which always seems to generate an alarming amount of interest from our toddler.

“Goodnight kittens, and goodnight mitt…okay, yeah, that’s the fire again,” I said.

Perhaps his interest in fire is genetic. I spent many years as a member of the Young Pyromaniacs Club. Excuse me, I’m being told that the official name is actually the Boy Scouts of America. In any event, we set a lot of stuff on fire.

I prefer reading Goodnight Moon over his other favorite story, Green Eggs and Ham, which is the War and Peace of kids’ books. You might have good intentions of reading every word to your child, but when the pages are made out of paper instead of cardboard, that’s a solid indication that you’re going to be there all night.

“Yeah, on a box, with a fox, yadda yadda,” I find myself saying.

When Evan points at the fire in Goodnight Moon, I try to get us back on the script of saying goodnight to everything in the great green room with the creepy bunnies in it. I need to be careful not to stray too far from the script when reading bedtime stories, since my family has a troubled history with children’s stories and improvisation.

“What’s the bear doing, Daddy?” my sister Amy asked my dad thirty-five years ago, pointing at the bear on the page and initiating an exchange that would be recounted at family gatherings a million times over.

“He’s standing on top of the mountain,” Dad replied, repeating what he’d just read.

“What’s the bear doing, Daddy?” Amy asked again.

“He’s standing on top of the mountain,” Dad replied, trying unsuccessfully to turn the page.

In the interests of brevity, I’ll cut out several iterations of their Q&A session, but you aren’t missing out on much. The Qs and As remained identical, until the final A.

“What’s the bear doing, Daddy?” Amy asked again, her hand on the page preventing the story from moving forward until this important plot point was resolved to her satisfaction.

Neither of them knew that moments earlier, Mom had placed a tape recorder under their chair with the intention of capturing a precious family moment to mail to our grandparents. Our sweet, sweet grandparents, who never uttered an indecent word in their entire lives.

When Dad realized that giving the answer, “He’s standing on top of the mountain,” was his contribution to trapping them both in an infinite loop, he decided to try something different.

“He’s scratching his back,” Dad replied matter-of-factly, except he didn’t say “back.” He used another word which probably isn’t fit to print in a family publication, at least not in this context. It would be appropriate in plenty of other contexts, though, like the ones in which the singular form of this noun is used to denote the piece of equipment that is central to many different sports, including basketball, baseball and football. If you guessed “athletic supporter,” you’re wrong, but very close, geographically speaking.

Amy was too young to understand the full meaning of the words that had just entered her ears, and we’ll never know whether that answer would have finally allowed them to move on to the next page.

“Maurice!” Mom yelled as she charged into the room, and that’s where the tape cuts off. Oddly enough, I don’t think Grandma and Grandpa ever got that package.

You can tuck Mike Todd in at


  1. Rad. So glad this piece of family lore made it into print, hiLARious. The comments section is the appropriate place to provide the answer key, "He's scratching his balls," right?

    I also love the "35 years ago" reference - sounds a little like, "4 score and 7 years go..." OMG I am OLD. xoxo


  2. HA HA HA!!! And that's not the only tape your dad ruined for the grandparents!!

    Amy and I were out on the back patio over at our old Woodland Drive house and I had set up the tape recorder because Amy was just intrigued by a big toad that was hanging around out there. She was excitedly pointing at him and proclaiming "WOG, WOG, WOG". When Maurice came home she proudly showed him the "wog". Maurice's response: "If frogs had wings they wouldn't bump their asses".

  3. Amy -- What kind of bear stands on top of a mountain, anyway? I think you were right to keep pressing him on that one.

    aMOMynous -- It's so weird that Dad was on tape the only two times he ever said anything untoward.