I’m on vacation this week so I thought I’d put you guys to work. Below is the opening chapter of my upcoming family humor book FOURthcoming, which is collection of heartwarming stories about the interaction of a dad and a precocious little girl as she nears her fourth birthday.
This is the first draft of the intended opening story to the book, and as you begin to read it you will see the problem. Now, since it is a true story, I’m remiss to change anything, but the KEY WORD that the story is based around, is a little tricky. In order to have the dad be confused, he can’t really understand what she is saying; in order for the story to work, it has to be close – but not so close that readers would spot it right away. Which they do right now.
That’s where you come in.
Read, and in your comment section, offer you suggestions.
Thanks! I’m headed down to the beach now. There are sand castles to be built.
Savvy was watching a cartoon show she likes, about a little British brother and sister and their friends. When it ended, she came into my office. She does that sometimes when she’s bored, or when she wants to get some ideas of what to play next. Sometimes, it’s other things.
“Dad, can we get a wakes?”
She is getting better and better at speaking, but still has some trouble over certain letters and sounds. Heck, she was practically lecturing at 9 months; I can’t say she’s getting better at speaking – she’s pretty darned good. We get compliments on her vocabulary and diction all the time. But like any 3 ½ year old, letters like R and L and a few others aren’t quite enunciated properly all the time. It’s like their mouths haven’t quite figured out how to make those sounds completely yet, but we usually can get her to say them properly if we practice and exaggerate.
We’ll stop and say L. “El. Elllll. Like this; look at my tongue. La, la, la. See? Elllllllll. You try it.”
It’s work, but she understand that we are constantly giving her information about stuff, and she accepts that. She asks a lot of questions; we do our best to give a solid answer. You can’t overdo it, either, or it gets confusing. But as I said, since we are constantly informing and instructing, it’s natural to pause and clarify. And like learning a foreign language, your ear has to start to understand the subtle differences that it’s hearing. She’ll eventually get it.
So when she wanted to get a wakes, I was bewildered.
“A what, honey?”
“What’s a ‘wake’?”
“You know, you can go, and then… go around, and then… that’s it!”
She seemed very happy with this explanation. I was no more enlightened than I was a moment ago.
“I’m not understanding you, sweetie.” I said. “Daddy’s working on the computer right now; can we find a wake another time? Can we do it later?”
“Okay,” she replied, not quite happy and not quite disappointed. As she walked back into the other room, I was more and more curious about what she had been asking. And it seemed like she really wanted one, whatever it was.
I quickly found a stopping point in my document, saved it, and walked out into the TV room.
“Okay, hon; what did you want?”
She beamed. “Dad, can we get a wakes?” she asked enthusiastically.
Honestly, I would have agreed, but I wasn’t sure what it was she was asking. For all I knew, she was asking if we could get a new puppy or a rabbit or something. “Dad, can we have a pet goat?” – you know? I want to foster her enthusiasm. I want to be a good guy. If I had been a smarter guy, I would have just said “yes” and let her go get whatever it was. But I wanted to figure out WHAT she was actually asking for, so I pursued.
We go back and forth a few times, trying to get her to say yes to one of the real words I’m throwing out there, that might possibly be what it is she’s actually trying to say. Sometimes, she plain old gets it wrong and is saying the wrong word. Not often, though…
Wake… wake… wake… What could that be? What could it mean?
Mace? No. Like she would know what a mace was anyway.
A rake, maybe? Maybe.
What could it be?
She entertained my inquiries with sympathetic optimism that I would eventually figure it out. That, or she was having a really good time at my expense as I tried to figure out a made up word.
We had already tried asking for her definition; her 3 year old vocabulary and perspective were at a level not quite where mine were. When you are 36 inches tall, you literally see the world a little differently than adults. Important things are stuffed dolphins, not lost car keys. Sandwiches with the crust cut off, not a poorly draining gutter. The possibility of ice cream for breakfast.
She may have something on that last one…
“Honey, say it again for me. ‘Wake’?”
Okay, that’s not helping. But I don’t want to discourage her, so I take a different approach.
“Where did you see a wake, sweetie?”
“On the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ cartoon,” comes the reply.
I will use the names Hansel and Gretel instead of the real name of the cartoon she was watching. It probably doesn’t matter; we love the show, but just in case I ever refer to them in a bad light, no sense in buying an avoidable lawsuit.
Almost everything she watches, we record first on the DVR, so she can watch cartoons and not be bombarded with insane commercials, but that also means I can put on a Hansel and Gretel marathon any time I want. It’s not her 100% favorite cartoon series; that would be Peppa Pig, but we plowed through a lot of Peppa Pig’s yesterday, and we don’t have any new ones to watch. And while that wouldn’t bother her – she often asks if we can watch a cartoon again right as it is ending – the adults in the house have to stave off insanity, so we change it up. “Let’s watch it again!” is a chorus that accompanies many end-credits of cartoons in this house.
“Let’s watch it again!”
“What, the same one?”
“The same cartoon we just finished watching???”
But what was this wake thing? It was a puzzle to be solved.
“Honey,” I ask, “where did you see this wake? Who was doing it?”
“Hansel and Gretel on the cartoon,” she replied, pointing at the TV.
“Hansel and Gretel? On this cartoon that’s on right now?”
Hmm. Well then, if I just rewind it a bit, I will see either Hansel or Gretel using the rake, and it will be easy enough to get her one. She even has a toy rake and shovel that are outside. I had to take them away from her because she would try to dig up rocks out of our gravel driveway and throw piles of dirt into the air – usually in my direction.
But I can still get them if that’s what’s needed. The dirt throwing was last fall; she’s a little older now, maybe she will understand the rules about DO NOT THROW DIRT AT DADDY.
I grab the remote and start rewinding the cartoon. Hansel and Gretel are a British brother and sister, and she is a few years younger than him. I never checked but she’s about kindergarten age, and he may be in 6th grade or so. Her school scenes are usually playing with paint and cutting up paper; he is studying Spanish. They are the two main characters, but they have little friends and neighbors – but no adults ever appear. They are referenced, but not seen, which is cool; like the old Charlie Brown classic stuff form the 1960’s, but adults in Hansel and Gretel don’t talk offscreen in a “wonk wonk wonk” covered trumpet sound. They are, however, polite; and they play nicely, in a real world sort of way. Gretel, the young girl, often has imagination scenes where she drift off to be a crocodile or princess or something. I don’t like a lot of message-y stuff in my cartoons, but it’s a good cartoon about siblings who love each other.
And as my wife often points out: these cartoons are for our daughter, not you.
Back to the mystery. I was rewinding the cartoon, and I had Savvy perched on the ottoman in front of the TV to tell me when I was getting to the part where the wake was. But since she is only 3 ½ years old, I felt I had to remind her that we were actually still doing that, and not just watching the cartoon in reverse.
“Do you see the rake yet, honey”
“Okay, let me know. Is it here? Is this the wake?”
Finally even I start to get bored and lose track. I’m thinking I should be working on my project, not watching backwards cartoons.
“There!” She shouts. Savvy point at the TV.
In my attempt to not wander off mentally, I had sped up the rewind to 8x, so it blew right by the wake. I missed it. But I quickly stopped, and started going forward through the cartoon.
I leaned in, so as not to miss the wake when it appeared.
“Is that the wake?”
I muted the TV and let the cartoon go at its normal pace. Hansel and Gretel were in a park. It was autumn, and leaves were falling. Maybe it was a rake after all.
From what I gathered, Gretel was all sad because she was unable to do anything right that day. Her kite wouldn’t fly, her friend couldn’t go to the park with her… Hansel, on the other hand, was getting along just fine. His friend and next door neighbor had joined him, and the two boys were enjoying their day in the park. Hansel did, however, notice that Gretel was not having a good time.
Being the good brother that he is, Hansel stopped playing with his friend and asked what he could do to cheer up Gretel. She recounted her bad day, and was a bit despondent. Since Hansel’s friend had to leave – for tea, I think, which is either lunch or dinner in Great Britain. Or a snack. I really have no idea. I’m pretty sure it’s not breakfast. Anyway, Hansel was more than happy to help lift the spirits of his little sister Gretel. So he asked her what she wanted to do. As it was getting late, there wasn’t a lot left that they could do.
She came up with a challenge. Run from where they were, to a park bench a good distance away. Hansel agreed.
As we like to say here: “On you mark, get set, GO”; over in England, they say, “Ready, steady, GO!” When my daughter repeats these things, my wife and I find it amusing. Savvy may end up with a British accent if she keeps watching this stuff.
So, off they go. They are sprinting along, and being her big brother, and being a little older and faster than Gretel, Hansel gets to the park bench first. Gretel arrives a moment later, exhausted and happy.
He is quizzical. He won; yet another thing had gone wrong for her today.
She disagrees. She says, “I was sad that I didn’t have any friends to play with today, but my BEST friend played with me – you, Hansel!”
At that, they hold hands and walk home.
What a nice story.
BUT WHERE THE HELL WAS THE WAKE???
So I paused the TV and asked.
“Um, Savvy; where was the wake?”
“Right there!” she exclaimed again, pointing at the TV. Hansel and Gretel were holding hands, walking past the park bench.
“What thing is the wake?” I asked my daughter, as I stared at the frozen picture.
“They waked to there. Hansel and Gretel waked to that.”
They waked? They RACED.
It was a race. Hansel and Gretel raced to the park bench.
“Honey, it’s not pronounced ‘wake’; you say ‘race’. It’sArrrr like a pirate. Race.”
“No, that’s something else. Rrrr, rrrace.”
Happiness all around. I had figured out what she was talking about, and she had patiently helped me understand her. Hansel and Gretel had run a race. Terrific. Back to work.
“Hmm? What?” I asked, oblivious.
“Dad, can we have a race?” she asked. Oh, yeah… That’s what she had come to me for in the first place. In the riddle of the mispronunciation, and watching the cartoon, I had lost track of her real objective. But, what to do? I had stuff I needed to finish. I didn’t have time to play games right now.
Then I remembered how Hansel had made time for his sister and it had made her day…
“Okay let’s have a race!” I declared.
“Yay!” Savvy squealed, jumping off the ottoman.
“Where should we race to? How about from the back door to the front door?”
She eagerly agreed.
We took our starting positions by the back door on the green rug. “Ready, steady… GO!”
Off we went. Since she is smaller than me, I can have fun taking the lead and relinquishing it several times during our short run. Near the finish line, I start to falter just in time for her to pull off a late surge to victory. She is exuberant.
“Let’s do it again!”
Okay, fine. Challenges from her still don’t work up a sweat. Not yet, anyway.
Back to the green rug.
We race twice more.
Then we added the side door as a waypoint for the next race. During that one, I grabbed a pillow off the couch as we went by, and threw it in her path – slowly – to appear to trip her, but she sidestepped it, protesting: “Not fair!!!”
After 3 more races, Savvy was still up for more, but I needed to finish and get her a bath.
Then I returned to my office.
Buddy, our dog, then comes in with HIS stuffed moose toy. He wants to run around, too.
Nothing’s getting done today.
Actually, IMPORTANT things are getting done, just maybe not what I would choose, or in the order I would choose it – and my order wouldn’t probably leave time for races anyway.
Standing in my office, I looked at the computer.
I can always do this stuff a little later, I guess.
Who’s to say which turns out to be more important in the long run?
Then we went back and waked all over the place.
Offer your suggestions in the comment box below.
Thanks! FYI, we saw a manatee yesterday and dolphins today. Oh, and some stingrays. I love living in Florida.
Want me to critique the first chapter of your story? SEND IT. Hit the Contact Me button and, you know, contact me. I’ll see what I can do.
FOLLOW ME! I’m this funny all the time. Don’t miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE/FOLLOW TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and if you send me your email through the Contact Me button I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.
If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.