Life Lessons from Curious George
I was sitting next to my kid. He was uncharacteristically quiet, his eyes characteristically wide, and his mouth set into his daddy's thinking, open-lipped pause. I stole a look to gauge my kid's reaction. He blinked, but that was about it.
If I hadn't become so effin' good at controlling my effin' mouth, I would've muttered, "What the fuck? This monkey is a fucking menace to society."
Li'l Otis grandparents were good enough to buy him two full volumes of Curious George stories. There's a red one and a blue one and they are the boy's first pick nearly every night before bed.
"How about the red one?" he says. "That'd be a great idea!"
I never fail to accommodate him, because it's either that or read about the soft little lamb and watch my boy lovingly fondle the soft felt laid into the pages. You know, a daddy's gotta watch out for felt fondling.
Over time, I've gotten to the point to where I know the stories almost as well as the kid. Some of them are okay. When Curious George laments his small size and dreams he is big, he learns that being big is sometimes as bad or worse than being little. However, most of the time, Curious George is engaging in high stakes, high risk, highly anti-social behavior.
Take, for instance, the time Curious George went to the train station, escaped from the Man in the Yellow Hat (as is his little monkey-assed wont), climbed up on the train schedule board and started re-arranging track numbers and times. In 2007, that's terrorist activity and if caught, George would've ended up in a monkey version of Gitmo. Of course, in the story, George ends up saving a kid from running onto the tracks and his indiscretions on the Big Board are forgiven.
If that doesn't do it for you, the list goes on and on. From jumping irresponsibly on the bed so he can see himself in a mirror, to running amok in a toy store, to ruining a major city's parade, George does it all. And, of course, at the end of it all, George is always forgiven. In a lot of cases, if he were a man, he would at the very least have his ass kicked and at the worse would be hung in town square.
I guess George's wide-eyed curiosity can be a little endearing. There's no evil in his heart. He's not fucking everything up in an effort to hurt, spite, or otherwise piss off his fellow primates. He's simply curious. His atavistic mind gets the better of him.
At the same time, I think there are people in the head-shrinking world who would say The Man in the Yellow Hat, Mrs. Gray, and and the whole lot of saps in George's little fantasy town are no more than a flock of enablers. The more they forgive George, the more he fails to understand how his reckless, feckless attitude toward life tends to screw up the lives of people around him.
Now, as a guy who tends to lead a reckless life and is often forced to ask for forgiveness more than he asks permission, I can relate to the little monkey. I've been promising to grow up for...eh...about ten years now. Every time I think I'm out, well, I pull myself back in. To this point, I've been pretty lucky to have parents, a sibling, friends, and a wife who have been willing to forgive my indiscretions. Maybe someday I'll find a way to stop being a monkey.
This, however, is not about me. It's about my kid. While I've been a little glib here, I actually wonder if Curious George is a good every-night read. Sure, they are good stories to teach forgiveness and they have stood the test of time (if you didn't know, the authors were Jews who fled Germany at just the right time). However, I feel like I'm justified in being a little concerned that I'm teaching my kid that it's okay to give in to boredom's advances and expect forgiveness when it's all said and done.
I can't say I've seen any hard evidence that George is rubbing off on the boy any more than Handy Manny or Bob the Builder are. However, my kid is about as curious as they come and tends to find a way to get in trouble in what most parents would consider a trouble vacuum. I am not as quick to forgive as the Man in the Yellow Hat, but, I have to admit to being a little soft sometimes.
Tonight, as I laid on the floor, watched TV, and made an effort to stay out of trouble, my wife heard the kid still rustling around in his bed.
"He's still awake," she said, the frustration in her voice more than a hint.
I thought about my countless nights, awake in bed, tossing back and forth under the covers. "He's his father's son," I muttered and turned my head back to the re-run.
In Curious George and the Dump Truck, the dump truck drivers run back and prepare to tear George a new one for dropping their landscaping dirt into the pond. However, when some kid notices the ducks are using the dirt as their own personal sunbathing island, the dump truck drivers say (and I'm paraphrasing a little here), "Well, hell yeah. That's right. I'll be damned. That little monkey deserves a medal for climbing into the cab of our truck, fucking around with machinery he doesn't know shit about, and potentially ruining the ecosystem of an entire park!"
Of course, I believe in forgiveness. What's more, I like to believe in the old "all's well that ends well." However, it's a fine line between being a nice dad and being the Man in the Yellow Hat. In short, I'm raising a kid, not a monkey, and I think I owe it to him to teach him early on that most dump truck drivers aren't as nice as the guys in the park.
And most of the ducks aren't going to see the spilled dirt as an island.