Animals

“Mom, you know that you can’t read that book to Ana.” As if to emphasize my point, four psychedelic butterflies zoomed down the hallway, careening off of walls and knocking down pictures.

“Why not?” Mom asked as she helped me rehang the family photo we took when Ana was two. Once we had returned safely to the kitchen, Mom continued to lobby me to let her read to her granddaughter, a book of modern fairytales in her hand. She opened it up and started pointing to pictures rendered in soothing pastel colors. “The dragon is friendly. See, she’s helping the Princess light a campfire, not burning down a village or anything.”

“And what do you think will happen when Princess Ana imagines a friendly dragon helping her light a campfire in her bedroom?”

Mom hesitated for a moment.

“Oh, Ana’s a smart girl, she wouldn’t . . .”

“She’s four, Mom. Smart has nothing to do with it.”

“Still, it’s such a nice book . . .”

“You remember what happened with the Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

Mom sighed. She knew I was right. When she’d read the book about a perfectly friendly but famished caterpillar to Ana a year before, my sweet little girl had shown us her powers for the first time. A four foot long supernatural caterpillar ate holes through Mom’s couch, kitchen cabinets, and walls. Fortunately, Mom’s home owner’s insurance policy covered the damage, but filing that claim wasn’t easy. And the damage would have been a lot worse if the caterpillar had wings and breathed fire.

“She was only three then.” Mom looked beaten, but not quite ready to give up. “Maybe she’s learned to control it better.”

I laughed.

“Mom, yesterday I spent four hours cleaning up slime trails left by slugs the size of Great Danes. Ana was on top of the lead slug, yelling ‘giddy-up’ as they slid out of her room, down the hallway, and into the kitchen. Where they ate my fern. All because of a nature show Ana found on TV. We’ve now unplugged all of the televisions.”

“Well, too much television is bad for children . . .”

“And fire breathing dragons are bad for children, too, Mom, even if the dragons are trying to be nice. You’re not reading her that book, or any other book with remotely dangerous animals in them. They only give her ideas.”

Mom looked thoughtful for a moment before she answered me.

“But she loves animals so much! She’s always going to have ideas about animals. The little cute animals, the scary animals, the real animals, the made up animals. She loves them all! And they all can turn out to be dangerous, even the ones we think are harmless. I mean, you wouldn’t think a caterpillar would be so dangerous, would you?”

“Not generally, no, but a caterpillar with a super power for eating is a different thing entirely.”

“And slugs don’t seem so dangerous either.”

“Like I said, these weren’t your average garden slugs. Apparently the show did a lot of super close-ups, so the slugs Ana imagined were big enough to ride.”

“Well, I’m just saying that it seems like they’re all dangerous in their own way. Maybe we just need to give Ana plenty of practice making them safer.”

I didn’t want to admit that Mom had a point, even though she did.

“Tell you what, Mom. Maybe you can read that book to her in the summer. In a metal boat. In the middle of a lake.”

Mom smiled.

“It’s a date!”

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