The Pie is worried.
On the second-last page of the book, Madeline’s bed is still ominously empty – and the other little girls all have tummy-aches that no one seems to be taking seriously. It’s a cliff-hanger ending, one that leaves her studying the illustrations long after the lights are out, using the last rays of daylight to peer hopefully into the book, looking for reassurance.
She’s starting to suspect that something’s up. At the grocery store the other day an ambulance went by. “Someone is sick,” she announced to her father when we got home. “They need to go to the hopspital.” Despite my heartily false assurances that the doctors will make the sick people better – that there will, in fact, be toys and candy and a doll-house from papa – she senses in the urgency of the wailing sirens a hint of tragedy lurking just outside the corners of her well-ordered life. Within the sphere of the known are picnics and babies and trips to IceCream Robbins, but just beyond those flickering boundaries are dark shadows. She doesn’t know what they mean, but she mistrusts them.
“I’m scared of that one,” she told me this week, pointing to the stair of our back porch. I bent down to see what had created this sudden phobia in my formerly fearless girl, and it was a tiny spider web. No spider was in residence and no bugs were wrestling against their cobwebby shackles – it was just a tiny net of gossamer, too fragmentary to catch anything but a few bits of dry leaves.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “This step is safe to land on.” She put her foot down delicately, then promptly forgot her sudden impulse of arachnophobia as she ran off to tussle with Bub over the division of the back-yard toys. Her scrappy self is still capable of chasing away that dawning awareness of danger, sadness, pain.
It is not that my daughter is becoming fearful. Like Madeline herself she is confident, sure of herself, daunted by nothing. I don’t know if she would say “Pooh-pooh” to a tiger at the zoo – she beat a hasty retreat yesterday from a sudden face-to-face encounter with a horse at the petting-zoo barn. From the safety of her crib, though, she insists that “the big horse” was her favourite part; she believes in her own fearlessness, and her self-concept is in no way damaged by the occasional need to admit that she is scared.
She is not a fearful child, but she is wary. She doesn’t yet know the things we grown-ups have schooled ourselves to forget, but she recognizes her ignorance for what it is, and she guards herself accordingly.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
The Pie is worried.