This is an essay from my collection HONEY, I’M SORRY I KILLED YOUR AQUASAURS.
Have you ever seen the cell phone commercial with the little girl braiding her father’s hair and chattering like a squirrel on drugs? He has this bored look on his face, watching the clock, and is very patiently trying to listen to his daughter. I know how he feels—and so does my husband.
Both of our girls are extremely verbal and sometimes they even argue over who gets to talk—given that they often want to talk at the same time. But Emma, our five-year-old, never seems to have a down time, except when she is sleeping. I love to talk with her and listen to her. I want her to know that what she has to say is important. But no human being, no matter how patient, could possibly listen to every word she says.
There’s that aspect of listening—the actual physical possibility or impossibility of listening and hearing every thing a bubbling five-year-old can muster. The other aspect of listening is the belief factor. With Emma, the belief factor is key.
She tells so many wild stories that all of her teachers come to me with her tales. They are amused by her active imagination. I am proud of it and want to foster it along. (When I was a child, such storytelling was forbidden. And I often was called a liar and punished.) When Emma tells her stories—and they are stories, not lies— we all play along and listen, assuming that they are stories.
There are times, however, that only the truth is called for—and one of those times recently happened in our home.
The girls and I were outside enjoying the glorious weather, as were our neighbors, who decided to grill. They have one of those grills that sometimes shoot flames into the air and Emma saw the flames, and ran into the house. I was in the garden weeding and Tess was close by.
Emma came back outside and said, ”Everything will be fine, now Mommy. I called 9-1-1.”
“You did what?”
“I called 9-1-1.”
“Why? Is there an emergency?”
“Al has a fire. So I called 9-1-1.”
“Emma, listen to me. Did you really call 9-1-1?”
She smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s go swing.”
Okay. So I chose to swing. I chose not to believe Emma.
About 15 minutes later, we were in the house and a police officer came to the door. A very serious officer with—I think— a club in his hand, which pounded on my door.
“Yes?” I said opening the door, my heart pounding.
“I’m responding to a 9-1-1 call.” (This after two attempts at calling us.)
“You are? “ It then dawned on me. And I yelled for Emma. When she presented herself to us, my normally outgoing child buried her head in my hips, her eyes wide as saucers. “You called 9-1-1, didn’t you?”
Well, the police officer, much to his credit, melted when he saw Emma. He kneeled down and said “Sweetie, I want you to know that you did the right thing if there was a real emergency,”
She took off running into the bedroom. He wanted to talk to her more, but she wouldn’t come out.
“I’m sorry, “ I said. “She told me she called and I didn’t believe it. I know you have better things to do.”
His main concern, however, was not in scolding us. He wanted to make sure that Emma would not be afraid of him or other policemen. He told me to keep reinforcing the positive aspect. And we have and I think she is okay.
As for me, it took a couple of days for me to get over it. As I stood at the door, opening it for the officer, a million thoughts were going through my brain, What have I done? Has my sordid past finally caught up with me? (Not that I even really have one.) Is Eric okay? Has he been in an accident? Not once did I even think that my daughter’s story was what brought him to my door.
I am glad—albeit slightly embarrassed—that this happened. I am listening more intently to my children; they do have a great deal to teach me. Sometimes, suspended belief is a blessing and what helps to make life magic. If we listen long enough and hard enough to kids, they will have us cynical world-weary adults almost believing anything and seeing life and all its wondrous “things” through their eyes. Things like the enchantment of fireflies, newborn birds, the rings of Saturn, and police officers that melt at the sight of sweet, imaginative children. Thanks, officer.