The Little Man happened to pick up a Yankees hand-puppet that I got for Christmas. I told him to hand it over and proceeded to do my best Edgar Bergan/Charlie McCarthy. Before long, I had the Little Man rolling in the aisles. He was not only laughing, but interacting with the hand puppet, holding a conversation with it and having a good ‘ol time.
And that’s when I noticed the Little Miss. She had moved away from the bed and was standing in the dead center of the room. She hadn’t moved since the puppet had come to life. And she had a strange look in her eyes. Now, the Little Man is nearly four and the Little Miss just past the 211 18-month mark. The Little Man was having a blast. And I made a mistake.
I misinterpreted the Little Miss’s nervous silence as frustration. After all, the puppet spent most of his time talking to the Little Man–who, naturally, was talking right back.
So I turned the puppet to the Little Miss, and he said to her, “Hello Little Miss! How are you today?”
In the ordinary passage of conversation, the Little Miss would have returned this interrogative with a delightful little, “Heh-loh!” She might even clap her hands together, bat her blue eyes and issue forth a smile that could brighten a looming darkness.
Instead, she eyed the puppet warily. Convinced that she hadn’t heard him, the puppet repeated, “Well hey there, Little Miss. Can I get a kiss?” He gestured with his arms.
It might have been the gesture that triggered what happened next. She took two nervous steps to her left–the direction of the bedroom door–and burst into tears. It was as that point that it occurred to me that she might be frightened of the puppet. It might seem inexplicable to her.
So I did what I could: I tossed the puppet into the closet and picked up the Little Miss. “It’s okay, sweetie,” I said, wiping away her tears. “It’s just a puppet. It’s pretend. It’s just a puppet.”
Through her sobs, she clarified at once that I was mistaken. “Scary puppet, Daddy,” she said. After that she held tight to me. I took her into our bedroom, sat down in the rocker and rocked her to sleep, feeling like the absolute worst dad in the world.
“Scary puppet,” she muttered as she dozed off.
I wonder how many years of therapy that will result in?
(And for those curious, here is the scary puppet:)
- I don’t know what I was thinking here. I just totally screwed up the math, okay. ↩